Flood-Hit Communities Rally Around Each Other in Wake of Storm

Aug 2, 2017

Flash flooding in northern and north-central West Virginia communities has left millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. The rain that began Friday, July 28, resulted in high, rushing waters that days later, families are still trying to recover from. Eight counties are under a state of emergency and members of the National Guard have been mobilized to deal with the damage.

Much of that damage is concentrated in Marion and Wetzel counties.

While official totals haven’t been released, the state Division of Highways estimates each county experienced more than $1 million in damage to roadways. The towns of Mannington and Hundred were hit particularly hard. But people in these close-knit communities rallied around each other from moment disaster struck.

The Foreman

Lora Michael in her Mannington, W.Va., hair salon — Lora’s Shear Delight — on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In her small hair salon on the edge of Mannington in Marion County, Lora Michael was blow-drying a customer’s hair with a phone wedged between her cheek and shoulder. She was giving advice on how best to help one of the town’s flood victims.

“I’ve been in business 36 years and I’ve lived in Mannington 51 years -- all my life,” Lora said later.

Most people in Mannington have started calling Lora “The Foreman.” That’s because she’s been helping people since early Saturday morning, when Buffalo Creek broke its banks and started flooding houses and businesses in the small Marion County town early Saturday morning.

Lora and her husband, Bill, got an automated call alerting them to flash flooding in the county, but they ignored it at first because there have been false alarms in the past and they live on a hill.  They received a phone call a few hours later from her friend, Kim Harris. She wanted to move her vehicles to Lora’s house because of the rising water.

Lora and Bill began walking to Kim’s house. That’s when they realized how quickly the water was rising.

“We’ve never had that much water in that community ever. And not only was it just water, it was rushing water. I mean water that was just ... it had some power behind it,” she said.

Kim Harris

All of the Harris's salvageable belongings that were in the basement when it flooded are strung out on her lawn.
Credit Shayla Klein / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Kim had watched the water creep up the street in front of her house Saturday morning and then come rushing into her basement.

“It was like a river,” she said. “It busted my basement door open, that’s how fast it came in.”

Grass marks the high-water line in Kim Harris’s basement Tueaday, Aug. 1, 2017 in Mannington, W.Va. The Harris's shut off their electric before water hit the breaker box.
Credit Shayla Klein / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Kim ended up with about 8 feet of water in her basement, soaking many of her belongings. Kim said she was amazed by how quickly her friends and neighbors swung into action to help her and the rest of the flooded town.

“[I’m] very blessed to have that type of community to come in that fast and start helping,” she said.

Kim said her family and friends, including Lora and her husband, had her basement cleaned out, power restored, hot water heater working and soggy drywall removed in a couple days.

“Everybody was involved. And then word got out, you had people from Tyler County, all the other counties that come in and just, they just started working together,” she said. “And the people that have asked if we need anything is overwhelming.”

Along with the National Guard and volunteers from Fairmont State University, cheerleaders and football and basketball players from nearby North Marion High School quickly fanned out across Mannington to help residents clean out flooded basements hours after the water receded.

Hundred

Flood debris piled up in downtown Hundred.
Credit Shayla Klein / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

That same spirit of cooperation was evident 14 miles away, in the Wetzel County town of Hundred, where water rose about 4 or 5 feet into homes and businesses downtown.

National guardsmen and volunteers were still dumping piles of trash and debris into trucks on Tuesday.

Blue Ridge Mountain Fire Company was one of the many departments that responded to Hundred's call for help after flash floods hit the Wetzel County town July 29, 2017.
Credit Shayla Klein / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

There were also several out-of-town fire engines parked outside the volunteer fire department.

The building had only been occupied for about two weeks when it flooded.

VFD president Johanna Lemasters said it took about two-and-a-half years to raise the money to build the new facility.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that we’d finally reached that goal and then it’s just wiped out in a few minutes,” she said. “And five of our firemen lost their own personal vehicles.”

The water rose into the parking lot, where the firefighters who responded to the flood thought their vehicles were safe.

But as soon as word of the flood spread, Johanna said, VFD companies from as far as Morgantown and Wheeling sent help.

“The one’s that are more heart-wrenching to me, that gets to me, are the ones that suffered the flood loss last year. Like the people from Greenbrier County bringing up supplies,” she said.

Hundred VFD President Johanna Lemasters and volunteer Jason Miller talk outside the VFD’s new, but recently flooded, building in Hundred, W.Va.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jason Miller, of Wadestown in Monongalia County, ended his family vacation early to come to Hundred. He’s helping coordinate the volunteer response, which he says has been overwhelming.  

“Prime example: Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, drove through the night to be here last night by 9 p.m. because our water service was on the verge of collapsing itself,” Jason said, referring to the four town wells that were damaged in the flooding. The town’s water system is limping along under a boil-water advisory.

“They’re not even asking for a dollar or dime. Nothing.”

Officials Visit Hundred

An ice cooler sits wedeged into a bridge along Fish Creek in Hundred, Wetzel County, W.Va., after flash floods hit the area early on July 29, 2017.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

State officials have made their way to the flood-hit communities during the past several days too, including Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Congressman David McKinley was at the VFD in Hundred on Tuesday. He said his main takeaway from seeing the flood damage is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has to do more for individuals.

“There’s a culture within FEMA too often, maybe the bar is set too high to help individuals out. FEMA’s got to pay more attention to individuals,” he said. “Yes, keep doing their job for municipalities, but look at individuals. Individual families are struggling with this.”

What People Need Now

Back at Lora’s Shear Delight hair salon in Mannington, Lora Michael is thinking about what people in her community need the most now that the immediate cleanup is done.

“The problem is the bugs, the smell. The drying-out process -- fans, dehumidifiers, lime, bug spray, fresh towels and linens, because people used what they had I’m sure, to gather up, wipe off. If you didn’t have rags, you used your bath towels,” she said.

She said that with so many flooded vehicles there’s also a real need for something people in less-isolated areas may take for granted -- transportation.

“We have no taxi services, we have no bus service here at all.”

Donated items are being accepted at North Marion and Hundred high schools, and at several churches in the area.