WHAT HAPPENED (in summary)
On June 23, 2016, thunderstorms brought torrential rain to much of West Virginia, resulting in accumulations of up to 10 inches in only a few hours. According to meteorologists at the National Weather Service, this qualifies as a 1,000 year event for the region, Rainfall totals included 9.37 inches in Maxwelton and 7.53 inches in Rainelle. Two-day accumulations in White Sulphur Springs reached 9.17 inches. In addition to the torrential rain, the storms produced an EF1 tornado near Kenna in Jackson County. The brief tornado lifted and rolled a single-wide trailer, injuring its two occupants; minor damage occurred elsewhere along its path.
The tremendous rainfall produced widespread and destructive flash floods in the state. The Elk River rose to an all-time high of 33.37 ft., surpassing the previous record of 32 ft. set in 1888. Greenbrier County was the hardest-hit, with at least 15 deaths confirmed. Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill described the county as “complete chaos”. Flooding in White Sulphur Springs destroyed many homes and swept some clean off their foundations. One home was videotaped floating down Howard’s Creek while engulfed in flames. The town of Rainelle was especially hard hit, and was described as looking like “a war zone”.
In Kanawha County, heavy rains washed out a bridge leading to a shopping center near Interstate 79 in Elkview, stranding approximately 500 people for nearly 24 hours. About 500 homes were severely damaged or destroyed in Roane County. In Clay County, the communities of Procious, Camp Creek and others were left in ruins.
At least 60 roads were shut down, many of them swept away. Multiple bridges across the state were destroyed. In Nicholas County, the Cherry River flooded much of Richwood, forcing the evacuation of a nursing home. Homes in low-lying areas of the county were flooded up to the roof. Electric utilities reported at one point that 500,000 customers were left without power from the floods.
THE AFTERMATH (in summary)
There are multiple organizations and companies who swarm in on areas that have had some kind of crisis event; FEMA, The Red Cross, insurance adjusters, utility companies for many neighboring counties and states, a large organization that actually does construction (all volunteer labor), local churches and organizations like the one we are a part of: Crisis Response International (www.CRiOut.com)
FEMA’s job is to assess and determine what needs to be done and who best to do it. What should be condemned and what can be repaired.
The Red Cross does a great job of locating people for relatives who are unable to get in touch with family in the crisis region. Usually communication is an issue with phone lines and towers down. They also bring in and distribute food/water for the residents and workers.
The local churches are the heart and soul of this recovery. If you don’t think so, volunteer to go in to the next devastated storm area.
Twice a day we had worship, prayer and a devotional presented by Pastor Chasteen, this was the greatest nourishment of all.
(Above pictured in order, our director of Deployment, Mike Wyatt, our Chaplin, Sandy Plummer, our on-site host and Pastor, Dennis Chasteen and our fearless leader with a lost friend, Lee Pridgen)
Our director of deployment, Michael Wyatt, contacted a pastor in Summerville at New Life Assembly, Dennis Chasteen who opened his school gym and kitchen to our group of responders. There is a new group coming in from a different organization the day we pack up and left.
Then the congregation went about feeding us three meals per day along with supplying prepared food to organizations out feeding the people stranded in the devastated towns.
(Above where we ate, took our baths [so needed] and slept. New Life Assembly in Summerville treated us like kings, we are so grateful)
All the churches in the general area joined in to bring in clothing, furniture, household items like dishes, towels, sheets and more.
Flood insurance was a luxury to all but a few since this area was mostly jobless due to our national administration’s policy regarding coal mining. Naturally, the insurance adjusters didn’t have many clients to call on.
Our job was to go to several of the houses we were assigned to and simply clean out and throw away that which could not be salvaged, which was 90% of what was in these homes. The trailers were all condemned; we cleaned them out anyway and saved dishes, pots and pans, washable linens and clothing, a few pictures and important papers and all the items hanging on the walls above the water line. These were boxed up and moved to friends and family homes that were spared. All electronics and appliances were destroyed…think about this.
(We prayed, we cleaned, we tore down walls and ceilings and we fed the hungry.)
In the structures that could be saved and rebuilt, all the sheetrock, carpet, ceilings, light fixtures had to be removed. We cleaned down to the studs and hoped the plumbing and electrical worked after drying time.
In one trailer lived a retired pastor and his wife of 53 years. We moved what could be salvaged to a house a block down the road, spared from the flood waters. There were boxes of books they had stored in one of the bedrooms. Every box had to be opened and fished through to see if anything could be salvaged. In one such box, our Chaplin opened it to find it full of soaking wet books. These had been underwater for 48 hours. She took one book out at a time to check for important papers and photographs. Midway into the box she reached in to find a completely dry, leather-bound Bible. Beneath it were more soaking wet books.
There was reported looting in one of the towns and a committee of men from that county gathered and put out a statement something like this: “If the police catch you looting, they will arrest you. If we catch you looting, they won’t need to.” I was told there are more guns per-capita in West Virginia than any other state. Perhaps they were just bragging, but I wouldn’t test it.
Our people found families who had been in their homes, through the flood, who had not had food or water for 10 days because they didn’t know it was available and were afraid to leave their homes unoccupied. May God have mercy, what have we become?
We came home tired only because we are older, many stayed longer than us and many are still there working.
The news media has moved on to Hillary and the police events, but our brothers and sisters in West Virginia are still hurting and in need of our help. Be careful who you give to. My advice is contact the local churches or the Red Cross, they have feet on the ground and know what is needed.