Clay County Begins to Rebuild After Record Flood Destroys Hundreds of Homes

Jul 2, 2016

While Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties were initially thought to be the hardest hit in West Virginia, receiving federal disaster declarations some 24 hours after catastrophic flooding, as the waters receded it was clear the damage was more widespread.

In Clay County, officials estimate more than 500 homes were damaged or destroyed leaving at least 500 people displaced. 

Crews from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, made their way into the county just days after flood waters receded, viewing only a small area before recommending the county be declared a federal disaster area. That declaration came on Tuesday, Governor Tomblin formally announcing it during a press conference at the county's health department in Clay.

Clay County Commission President Greg Fitzwater gives members of the West Virginia National Guard directions to an area of the county where members are working to remove debris.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The area surveyed by FEMA officials included the communities of Procious, Bomont and Camp Creek, where small creeks and streams feed into the Elk River as it flows south to Kanawha County. 

Clay County Commission President and Deputy Emergency Services Director Greg Fitzwater said at one point following June 24's heavy storms, Route 4 in the county, which runs along the Elk, had six to seven feet of water covering it. 

“It was this area alone that caused FEMA to give us a disaster declaration. It just kinda almost makes a fella speechless to look at all of this," Fitzwater said as he drove through the southwestern portion of the county made up of those communities. 

The National Weather Service measured the Elk River at its crest at just over 30 feet Friday in Clay, the highest the river has been in the county since 1918, 98 years ago.

On the morning of Friday, June 24, Sgt. Major Darrell Sears arrived in the county with members of the National Guard to aid Fitzwater in the recovery efforts. The state sent a shipment of water, but more supplies didn't arrive in the county until Saturday.

“I know a lot of the people were out of resources," Sears said, adding that the area public service district was able to restore water to the county health department to distribute and one convenience store was running on generator power so some resources were available.

"I know that people had to buy it, but it wasn’t anybody life threatening at [that] moment," he said.

An excavator, left, attempts to rebuild the piece of land where one of Dave Sizemore's private, one-lane bridges used to sit. The bridge was washed away by flood waters.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Since, the county has restored sewer operations and as of July 2, only 10 percent of county water customers were still without service, but those official county estimates don't mention the number of people who lost septic systems in the storm or who rely on well water. 

Ten percent of the county remains without power as well.

Clay County also experienced the highest total damage to roadways, which FEMA estimates totals $8.5 million.