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West Virginia Flooding 2016: "West Virginia Strong" and the Aftermath

Cynthia is a survival enthusiast. She tries to stay prepared for anything that may happen so she can easily adapt to changes.

Christine McKown's parents' home in Clendenin West Virginia. Taken June 24, 2016, after the water began receding.

Christine McKown's parents' home in Clendenin West Virginia. Taken June 24, 2016, after the water began receding.

West Virginia Flooding, June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016 began like any other day for most of us here in West Virginia. None of us expected the massive flooding that would follow later that day. But as the storm raged on, I knew it that this storm was different.

Our farm house sits atop a hill, and our property borders the river. My lower field, where I normally plant pumpkins, looked after a few hours like it was just part of the now huge raging river. My long dirt driveway flooded further up than I had ever seen. My heart sank, knowing what must be going on in other areas, as I watched the water continue to rise.

The flooding caused massive power outages all over West Virginia, and my power would be out for a week. With a low-water crossing in our driveway, we were stuck. I was left completely in the dark as to what was happening in my home state of West Virginia during that time. We managed, but the devastation throughout West Virginia was devastating and heartbreaking.

People really came together. A friend of mine went above and beyond trying to make sure we were safe during this time since I was essentially a ghost on social media. The reports kept coming in. I am not sure when there will be an accurate number of homes and businesses destroyed from this massive West Virginia flooding. The last report was 26 lives lost to this devastating flood, with other people still reported missing. While many will rebuild or move to new homes, those lives will never be replaced.

West Virginia Flood

People Came Together to Help With Flood Relief, but the Need Persisted

There have been amazing stories of communities coming together to held with flood cleanup, donations and volunteers. There were stories of true heroism, like that of Chris Vance, who miraculously saved his parents when the flood waters were already so high you could barely see the house. Of course, West Virginia, and the flooding were not mainstream news for long; we were brushed aside for other newsworthy stories.

If the West Virginia flooding has done anything, it has shown how much people are willing to help. Churches, community centers and schools across the state were all receiving overwhelming donations and volunteers as emergency relief centers. I did see a lot of people saying that FEMA was not much help during the flooding. The problem is they simply were not prepared for a flood of this magnitude. There are 55 counties in West Virginia; of these, 44 were impacted by the flooding.

I am proud of all the wonderful people that came from near and far to help, to donate. Many of my fellow graduates that have since moved to other states even gathered donations and returned to West Virginia to help in any way they could after the flooding. There are some inspirational stories out there. They just are not being reported any longer.

Keep in mind, not just homes were lost. Cars were lost, people lost their jobs. Businesses that have been around for more than 50 years will never reopen. West Virginia will continue to struggle for years to come as a result of this flooding. Our already high unemployment rate will skyrocket as a result. Another devastating blow is that many businesses that were not directly affected laid off employees, or shut down and moved to other states: another tragic blow to our already devastated economy.

People will continue to struggle to rebuild for some time moving forward. Even weeks past the initial flooding some people were still at stage one and other people had yet to start at all. Between health problems, lack of funding, and a slew of other issues standing in their way, the struggle to stay strong and work towards recovery would be a long hard road.

There were some amazing volunteers, from churches, Ground Hero WV, and many individuals that just saw a need and came to aid.

A month after the flood, the end to flood recovery was nowhere in sight. Citizens will be reeling from this catastrophic historic flood for years to come. There were conflicting theories as to how long flood recovery would take; some officials claimed it would be over in 10 weeks, others saw the bigger picture and suggested that at minimum it would be 18 months if not longer.

A Long-Lasting Cleanup Effort

Weeks after the flooding, cleanup efforts in West Virginia were just starting for some people. Others were not able to start at all. People in Clay County, West Virginia, for example were still stranded. Roads completely washed away, leaving it impossible for some to do much of anything to try and move on and rebuild.

For example, weeks after the flood, we had yet to start on my mother's home. Her home is a total loss, yet she is still responsible for clearing everything out before demolition. It took weeks for FEMA to even meet with Mom and assess the damage. I am sure there are others they did not get to swiftly either; they just were not prepared. Her insurance had to do a walk-through before we could begin, as they instructed her not to touch anything. They would take even longer than FEMA to do a walk-through, all the while allowing mold to continue to grow and spread.

Once we had that all that out of the way, the dump site for flooding in Elkview closed down. The one in the next town over was scheduling to close as well. So Mom inquired about getting a dumpster from Waste Management (pretty much the only option here in West Virginia). Renting a dumpster for a week would cost my mother (who just lost everything) $700; then she would be charged $450 to have the dumpster emptied. And there are limits on what you can put in the dumpster: no electronics of any sort, and no appliances. Well, we live in a modern age, and I understand the issues with electronics, I really do. But to tell someone basically half of what they have in their home can't be put in a dumpster that costs $700 seems a bit ridiculous.

This was the going rate for businesses that needed to get a dumpster replaced due to the flooding. Ironically, during the flooding, someone else's dumpster landed at the far end of my property on its side. The business, sadly, had to pay to replace it.

Mom was not the only one struggling to start cleanup after the flooding here in West Virginia. Yet, all the coordinated efforts seemed to be focused more on donations for flood relief. Do not get me wrong, I think the love and compassion from all those helping has been amazing, but flood cleanup efforts seemed likely to stretch far beyond 18 weeks, while all the dump sites were closing. Though my house did not flood, I still have debris from the flooding in my driveway, along the property. The river is full of debris from the flooding as well.

I have seen posts where places were trying to coordinate with agencies on rebuilding of homes, and spending hours on the phone with no luck. The churches and organizations were amazing, and it really goes to show what a wonderful compassionate place West Virginia is! They went above and beyond helping and feeding volunteers. But the volunteers are no longer showing up. According to some, this is the agencies' lack of coordination at fault.

I have noted that some smaller organizations were really getting things done; their coordination was stellar during the West Virginia flood cleanup efforts!

As the Elk River extended its borders, homes were completely engulfed.

As the Elk River extended its borders, homes were completely engulfed.

What You Can Do to Help Rebuild After a Flood

After the West Virginia flood, many people were a bit leery of sending donations, not knowing what organizations were legitimate. Many small businesses did fundraisers to benefit different areas affected by the flooding. Many items were sold on the web, saying the proceeds would be donated to flood relief efforts and organizations.

We advised people that before buying anything saying 'West Virginia Strong' to please look for items that give at least part of the proceeds to relief efforts. Many, many shirts available on sites like Amazon had none of the proceeds actually benefiting relief efforts.

Larger organizations like Save The Children worked to help aid West Virginia in the aftermath of the flooding. Please keep in mind that donations like clothing, while very much appreciated, would be best held until people finish rebuilding, or relocating. Although so many people want to donate clothes, the truth is, when all you have is a tent and a plastic tote full of your belongings, much more than a few outfits becomes a burden. In reality facilities are not set up to store large amounts of clothing, and those affected by flooding likely have no place to store them either.

Here is a list of the items that were really needed during the first weeks and months of flood cleanup:

  • 2x4's
  • Subflooring
  • Insulation board
  • Sheet rock
  • Electrical (wiring, etc.)
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Shop vacs
  • Other building materials and tools

When you think about donating, It is a good idea to call ahead to donation and distribution centers; some need donations while some may be at capacity and unable to take donations.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to help after a flood. You can simply just take supplies to locations that are cut off, volunteer to help clean up, or help rebuild. Drop off food for those that who still unable to travel. Or just share the information about the ongoing need on your social media channels; the national news will typically stop covering a disaster while the need for help is still desperate.

Transportation is another huge issue with flood relief efforts. Many people lost their vehicles in the West Virginia floods as well as their homes, making it extremely difficult for them to get supplies as the cleanup continues. Many volunteers spent small fortunes out of pocket taking supplies to remote areas. The need for donations to help with fuel costs was great.

Here are a few great groups on Facebook that were created in the aftermath of the floods that covered the needs of local churches and organizations in their efforts with flood cleanup. Some are no longer active but they are worth checking out; others have current local public health and self-help information.

You could also search the following hashtags on social media for information:

  • #WVStrong
  • #ElkRiverStrong
  • #WVProud
  • #WvFlooding

Aftermath: Rebuilding Problems

Officials announced two major problems for those families attempting to clean up and repair their homes in Clendenin, West Virginia. One was that FEMA extended the 100 year flood zone to include much of the town. This meant families preparing to remodel after flood cleanup would have to raise their houses a minimum of 38 inches in order to stay. This was a massive blow for families who had already paid for flood zone surveys. Many were faced with either leaving or finding the $30,000 it would take to raise their homes above the new flood zone.

Another hard blow was that all the gas meters and many gas lines needed to be replaced, so gas services were not expected to be available till late November. Here in West Virginia it gets cold at night much earlier than November! This blow left most occupants without heat, or even a way to prepare food, for months ahead.

Adding to the already desperate situation, all those affected were required to pay for asbestos inspection and removal before they could begin to remodel.

Weeks after the flooding, there was still no media attention despite my best efforts to get the information out into the world. I could not tell you where all the money being raised in the name of West Virginia Flood relief is going. Other than the funds being raised by Brad Paisley and Jennifer Garner, your guess is as good as mine.

President Obama had yet to visit my lovely state of West Virginia. I have no idea if it would help, but it would perhaps have brought a little hope to all those who were devastated, lost and homeless.

The ongoing long term recovery in West Virginia continues, despite a lack of aid, and a drastic drop in the volunteer numbers.

West Virginia Flooding

In this video that my friend Sheila posted on Facebook, she talks about what is needed moving forward for West Virginia flood relief. She makes a very valid point about wondering where President Obama is during all this devastation.

Perhaps hearing some of the information from someone other than me will help to stress just how dire the need continues to be for my fellow West Virginians.

© 2016 Cynthia Hoover

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