Can We Rebuild? Many Flood Survivors Grappling With a Long Recovery

On Thursday June 23, massive flooding swept across most of West Virginia. It began with a rare event- a tornado touched down in Nicholas County, West Virginia on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 21. Regional rain storms followed but nothing like what started to fall throughout a 22-county region on Thursday, June 23.

People across West Virginia right now are searching for hope, and wondering whether FEMA will provide adequate assistance for their families. Others say their faith is keeping them strong.

Within a tragic 24-36 hour period, at least 23 West Virginians perished. Thousands of homes were flooded, many of them destroyed. There were stories of terror and heroism that came out of this flood.

On Friday, June 24th Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly visited Richwood to speak with residents about the devastating flooding that submerged homes and businesses. Workers and volunteers rescued almost 100 people from the Nicholas County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Thursday afternoon. She recorded the stories of two men who worked to get the residents out alive. She also spoke with one of the survivors of the flood, Carol Holmes, who says she's "West Virginia tough. Proud to be here."

But Richwood is still recovering from a flood that hit in 2003. And it’s tough to recover with limited resources.

With such devastation, a question many of us have been asking is can these small communities rebuild? What does it take to come back from this type of disaster?

Fifteen years after flood waters ravaged Mullens, W.Va. several of the businesses remain open.
Credit Jessica Lilly

One community in southern West Virginia that was in the spotlight for massive flooding in 2001 was spared by the June 23 flood. Host Jessica Lilly wanted to find out how things were going. She made the trip to Mullens, her hometown in Wyoming County, to talk with Charlie Feller, an insurance salesman in town. Listen to the episode to hear what he had to say, 15 years after the flood that ripped through West Virginia's coalfields.

Sarah Chandlers' mother, Clendenin, West Virginia
Credit Kara Lofton/ WVPB

See more photos, read stories, and tour an interactive map of the communities that were hardest hit by the 2016 flood here.

Music in this episode was provided by Randy Newman, Larry Groce and Joe Ely as heard on Mountain Stage.  Other music was from Alan Cathead Johnston, Larry Dowling, and Amanda Watkins.  

Our producer is Roxy Todd. Suzanne Higgins edited our show this week. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Zander Aloi.

We’d love to hear from you.   You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.