West Virginia Flooding 2016: Long Term Recovery Struggles
The devastating flood on June 23, 2016 in West Virginia left its mark on 44 counties in the state. In a state with only 55 counties, the aftermath was unbelievable. Many local news outlets and those affected by the flooding have dubbed it a '1,000 year flood'.
One of the hardest things to fathom is the fact that West Virginia has an absurd amount of money sitting in its Revenue Shortfall Reserve Fund, most know it as the 'Rainy Day' fund. A staggering $681,900,699.43 is the reported balance as of August 31, 2016. To date none of that money has been released by our state government to help with flood recovery efforts. With 80% of the state in a shambles, I would call that one heck of a rainy day. West Virginia citizens still have no idea where the federal mitigation funds are for this disaster either.The flooding not only took lives and homes, it also took employment. Entire towns have been wiped out, and all the businesses that employed the citizens of these towns are gone as well. Leaving families with no income in a time when they need it most.
Flood Relief Centers Closing
Another devastating blow to the long term recovery efforts in West Virginia, is the loss of relief centers. It is understandable that the Red Cross, and FEMA have jumped ship and headed to aid in Louisiana's flood recovery. In all honesty their relief centers were less helpful than the small organizations, and churches. The efforts of FEMA and the Red Cross fell short of aiding the suffering in so many areas that look as if something ghastly apocalyptic has taken place. Many areas would have been left completely unaided if it were not for local residents and neighbors taking action.
Churches and small local organizations have been steadfast since day one. Fueled solely by volunteer efforts and donations. These much needed centers are being forced to shut down. Shutting down due to lack of volunteers. These places have been a priceless resource for those in need. Supplying so many necessities, doing laundry and helping with recovery every step of the way. At 10 weeks into flood recovery there is a large downfall in the number of volunteers. No doubt people are becoming burnt out, and needing a much deserved rest.
With 80% of our state in such need, it is a devastating blow to long term recovery efforts to lose even a single relief station. West Virginia is losing many relief stations, and no new ones seem to be opening in their absence. The need for volunteers is overwhelming in West Virginia. Though you won't see it in any national news, or as a headline in a large paper. West Virginia is only news in ~ well, West Virginia.
A Lack of Storage Facilities
Storage is a huge ongoing issue for long term recovery efforts. It is altogether baffling that West Virginia is host to thousands of empty warehouses and yet we have no place to store large donations. With small organisations and churches being the frontrunners in the ongoing flood relief efforts, they have very limited storage options.
Radio Free Elk River Flood Relief has managed to obtain large donations of many items. R.F.E.R is a completely volunteer based flood relief group. Tom Koenig created the group and has been an amazing part of recovery efforts. Securing large donations from 1,000's of gallons of laundry detergent from Charlie's soap. To securing a fully loaded semi truck delivery of Diatomaceous earth to handle to the insane influx of insect activity after the flood. Again one of the biggest obstacles in securing donations is finding a place willing to store and allow distribution of donations.
R.F.E.R is not the only group of volunteers that are experiencing the growing issue of finding storage. In this stage of recovery large items are in need, such as building supplies. Keeping these items stored properly is proving to be an ongoing problem. Drywall left out in the elements will become useless for building purposes. I have spent countless hours soliciting donations for long term flood recovery efforts. Though I am always worried about where we will store any secured donations moving forward.
There have been some great people that have allowed their facilities to be used for flood recovery storage. Not to belittle their kindness but we need more. The ability to spread out these donations is essential. Many people are left without transportation after the June 23, flood here in West Virginia. So how are they supposed to access these donations that are housed 6 counties away? All those who have allowed their properties to be used for storage, I just want to say thank you. It has been a huge help in some areas to have proper storage.
Fuel Funds and Deliveries
Imagine in the blink of an eye, everything you own is gone. Your home, car, and even your employment. How will you get the items you need? You have to rely on deliveries. Tom Koenig and Jennie Vermillion have been making weekly deliveries to some of the most remote areas devastated by the 1,000 year flood.
So many people have donated to the fuel fund and everyone at Radio Free Elk River is eternally grateful. The funds have been used to take donations 100's of miles to those in need. There are however still people living in tents in these remote areas. The need for more donations to fund the weekly expeditions is overwhelming. Not just for Tom and Jennie, for others that are out there making deliveries, and making a difference. The Fuel Fund has aided people in getting desperately needed items like basic necessities and food.
Delivery is a huge ongoing problem since so many people lost their transportation to the flooding. Not just in the form of fuel cost, but actual vehicles as well. Trucks are a much needed element to ongoing efforts. People need building supplies delivered. Large furniture items need moved for those who have managed to rebuild. People also need basic transportation to and from appointments.
For those who have never visited the beautiful state of West Virginia. While we have larger cities, we also have a vast majority of rural and even very remote areas. Areas where public transportation is nonexistent. Even if public transportation were mainstream in some of these remote areas, the people would likely not be able to afford the transportation at this time. Coupled with the deplorable road conditions left behind all over the state. My mind goes back to the rainy day fund once again, and how it could be helping so many people.
On top of all the other obstacles West Virginia long term flood recovery faces, dumpsites have closed. Many dumpsites were closed very early on during flood relief efforts. On a recent trip to the Clendenin Strong block party I traveled many devastated areas. One thing remained the same in the scenery. The vast amount of debris piled along what was once a beautiful scenic drive.
The vast majority of West Virginia is limited to a single trash service. Some areas do have multiple choices. Though many people, myself included have only Waste Management as an option for trash service. Renting a dumpster is $750.00 and $50.00 a ton after 3 tons. Plus an additional $450.00 to have a dumpster emptied. That is all without mentioning the $10.00 a day charge a day, after the first week that Waste Management charges.
Without dumpsites, West Virginia will be riddled with debris. People cannot afford the high prices for a dumpster. Nor can the afford the overage charge weekly for going over the 6 bag restriction for residential pickup. The dumpsites also allowed for appliance and electronic drop offs. Where is the logic behind closing dumpsites so early into the recovery efforts of a 1,000 year flood. What will this once beautiful state look like in the coming future?
Another poor decision by government officials. West Virginia has long been a tourist and retirement destination. With tourism bringing in funds that boost the state's economy. I cannot imagine tourists continuing to visit a state that is now riddled with debris piles and junk around every turn. The once beautiful river banks and streams are now horrid and uninviting as they are covered with countless debris. Moving towards the future, if nothing is done to reopen dumpsites and allow easier less costly forms of debris removal. West Virginia will no doubt continue to suffer a loss of revenue as a direct result of the unsightly debris.
Do you think West Virginia State Governor Earl Ray Tomblin should release some of the rainy day fund to help aid long term flood recovery?
When the flooding first hit West Virginia I had expected to see presidential candidates making a point to come to West Virginia. The thought that President Obama would grace the fine state of West Virginia in this time of need was a no brainer, or so I thought. West Virginia has had no political presence since day one. The only attention from President Obama has been when he declared West Virginia to be a major disaster after the catastrophic and historical flood hit.
Perhaps the lack of empathy from our president and the presidential candidates would be easier to swallow for this voter if it were the same across the board. While presidential candidates Jill Stein, and Donald Trump have made visits to meet with flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia remains void of any political presence. In no way is that belittling what happened in Louisiana. Louisiana will no doubt suffer on a larger scale with long term recovery as the population is 3 million citizens higher than WV. It is a testament to West Virginia being viewed as a non-priority. With most people believing the stigma that we are a state of uneducated backwoods hillbillies.
Sure a visit from a presidential candidate would be nothing more than a way to try and further the amount of voters they received. Even a shameless ploy to swing the vote in any direction could have been a huge boost to the morale of citizens in the wake of such a traumatic event. If I myself were running as a presidential candidate, I would have made a point to be in West Virginia. Especially If I were already leading the polls, just to secure that my voters remained.
Though West Virginia has many politicians a single one stands out as a hero during this historical flood. Glenn Jeffries has been an integral part of cleanup efforts. Not just sitting in an air conditioned office barking orders like so many others have. Glenn Jeffries has been getting covered in mud and muck right alongside his fellow mountaineers throughout the recovery process. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from his efforts by many other politicians out there. No matter who you are or what you do, you are never too good to help.
Ongoing Flood Recovery Efforts
The need for aid is still great in many counties here in West Virginia. Building supplies of all forms are a scarce resource. Many people are unable to afford to purchase the items they need, relying solely on gracious donations from others. Winter is approaching, and with it the needs for those who are living in encampments and tents are increasing. As the cold weather approaches West Virginia will have more obstacles ahead for long term flood recovery.
Perhaps one of the hardest things about flood recovery in West Virginia is that we are a poverty state. Losing businesses along with homes, means less income for a large portion of the population. Elkview Crossings mall still remains completely cut off. The bridge to the large shopping plaza was ripped away by the destructive flood waters. This shopping plaza employed a huge number of people. Many companies like Kmart and Kroger were able to offer placement at other locations for their employees. Though many were unable to take the positions due to the additional cost to travel to the other locations.
Roads are damaged all over the state, making a long commute to work outside of one's town a huge obstacle. Businesses are closing left and right that were not decimated by the flooding. Dominion gas recently locked out it's employees without notice. An ITT technical institute just locked out students and will be shutting down. There is going to be a huge economical struggle for West Virginia moving forward.
Despite the flood recovery efforts from volunteers, and organizations. People need income to survive. The need for employment opportunities is great here in West Virginia. With so many living in rural areas still reeling from the flood, I can't help but wonder what the future holds. West Virginia may see a huge influx in residency for larger cities. As well as a potential drop in population if our job market continues to decline, leaving citizens with no choice but to move to another state and start over.
Though there have been many fundraisers to aid in recovery efforts, many people are wondering where the funds are going. Small fundraisers like the fuel fund I mentioned, seem very transparent and you know exactly where your money is going. Others that have raised funds on a larger scale, have the population in an uproar wondering why they are not seeing those funds benefit recovery efforts at all. I have found very few West Virginia Strong items that actually offer to donate a portion of the proceeds to the long term flood recovery. Buying a West Virginia Strong/Proud or Pray For West Virginia T-Shirt does not mean that any of the money is actually going towards aid.
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© 2016 Cynthia Hoover