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The anniversary of the rainfall that sent waters rushing into the hollers of West Virginia might be June 23, but for victim’s loved ones, the nightmare really began the next day in 2016.
Edward Thompson died of hypothermia and stress-related heart failure during the 2016 flood that ravaged West Virginia.
His son, Keith Thompson, found out his father had passed about 1:30 a.m., on June 24, 2016.
“He was right there with Mom in this water. It was right at the light switches on the wall, if you can visualize it so, you know, up to about your waist,” Thompson said. “It was an 85- and 83-year-old-man and woman, and very, very cold water and the dark.”
Gerda Thompson’s home was damaged due to floods. Volunteers worked to restore her house. Thompson moved back into his mother’s home in Rainelle about a month before her death.
“But we got her back in her home,” Keith Thompson said. “And I did sell the house, finally sold the house about three years ago. And a family has it, they’re loving it. I’ve driven by the house and you know, it’s the yard’s cut and everything’s nice and neat and they’d be proud of it.”
Thompson says while the anniversaries are hard, it’s important to remember.
“You never get over it,” he said. “You just kind of go on with life. You know, Dad passed away in the water. Mother passed away about four months later with a stroke. That’s the one thing I learned through all of this, you just have to get up. The sun will come up in the morning, we will go on, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Even though his parents are gone, Thompson says he’s thankful that he had the insurance and help from volunteers to restore his former childhood home.
Several families waited years to rebuild and there are still bridges that need to be built. Thompson says he’s surprised that students in the Richwood area still don’t have a school to attend.
“Richwood High School has not been rebuilt. It should have been one of the first things they started to work on,” Thompson said. “Here it is, six years later, these kids are still working out of portable units. That’s not right. These kids deserve their school and that has always bothered me.”
Now, the funds available for this school are at risk of being sent back to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the work isn’t completed by December 2024, all funds will need to be paid back to FEMA by Nicholas County.
Thompson still gets emotional at times while talking about his parents and the flood. But he’s also learning to find peace in his new life, without them.
“There’s good in everything,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of people now that have much nicer homes. It was a rough way to get it.
“Twenty-three people died in this flood. Did it cause their death? No, it was their time to go,” Thompson said. “I’ve said that many, many times. It could have been 75 degrees and not a rain cloud and at about 1:30 on the 24th day of June 2016, Ed Thompson would have left this world because it was his time to go.”