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Baptists provide hot meals, clean up mud after W.Va. flood

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story replaces the 7/13/01 BP story, “Ky. Baptists provide meals, water after devastating W.Va. floods.”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist disaster relief teams from Kentucky were the first to arrive in southern West Virginia July 9 to help victims of ferocious record floodwater that crashed through eight counties Sunday morning, July 8, bringing catastrophe to entire neighborhoods and wiping out at least two towns.

Gov. Bob Wise announced July 10 that President George W. Bush had declared eight West Virginia counties — Boone, Doddridge, Fayette, McDowell, Mercer, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming — as federal disaster areas.

Once calm, barely four-inch-deep streams that ran peacefully through people’s property transformed into explosive 10-foot walls of water that devastated everything in their path. The water’s pressure was so powerful in some locations as it surged down through the hillsides that 20,000-pound boulders were forced loose, crashing into homes below. Dark, thick, putrid mud ruined whatever the water and rocks failed to.

Several of the same towns were struggling to recover from serious flooding that hit southern West Virginia hard twice in the past two months.

Witnessing so much trauma in such a relatively short period of time has been an emotional beating to many residents. “I have never seen the look on people’s faces like I have seen in this [flood] — the stress, the anguish, the disbelief,” Wise said.

Kentucky Baptists, working with the American Red Cross, helped put smiles back on some of those faces as they prepared hot meals and grabbed shovels and brooms for the massive clean-up efforts. Describing their ministry, Larry Koch of the Kentucky Baptist Convention simply said, “Paul said in Galatians, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens.’ So that’s what we’re here to try to do.

“Jesus said, ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ That’s what we’re here doing. If we were in this situation, we would want people to help us.”

Before the end of that week, disaster relief teams from the Ohio, North Carolina and Tennessee Baptist state conventions had joined an even larger contingent from Kentucky. Leon White, coordinator of disaster relief ministry for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, had received phone calls promising help from five other Baptist teams. By July 16, South Carolina and Georgia Baptist disaster relief teams were in place with their communication units, and Florida, Virginia and Maryland groups were shoveling mud and distributing cleaning supplies they had gathered.

No matter where they were from, the Baptist teams were committed to helping “until this is over,” White said. “They’ve said they’d have someone here as long as they’re needed.” The mud-out work could easily take three weeks, he said, “then the long-term recovery work begins.”

Tremendously heavy rainstorms started early Sunday morning and dumped eight inches of rain on some towns, filling creeks, streams and rivers. According to many residents, flooding in the area has never been this severe. They say the water rushed unchecked across areas stripped but not reclaimed by mountaintop removal coal companies and the logging industry. Studies are underway by the Department of Environmental Protection to see if improper coal mining and timbering actually are to blame. By July 12, residents and business owners were filing class-action lawsuits.

Hundreds of families are reported to have escaped from their homes in the nick of time before raging water reportedly 10 feet high and hundreds of feet wide gushed down the hillsides toward them, prying loose boulders the size of pick-up trucks. A few people captured the horrific events on personal video cameras.

While an estimated 2,500 homes received moderate to severe damage, at least 1,000 homes were completed destroyed. “[The water] came up so fast, I didn’t have time to save anything,” said Doris Manning, 78, of Glen Fork in Wyoming County. Such distressed statements of shock have filled newspapers, local TV news broadcasts and radio news-talk programs all week.

As the light on top of the state capitol signaled a state of emergency, 1,200 from the West Virginia National Guard and 400 guardsmen from neighboring states were activated by July 12 to assist with clean-up and prevent looting. Engineering troops brought in front-loaders, bulldozers and dump trucks to clear what used to be homes and businesses off of what used to be roads and highways.

More than 40 roads were closed and bridges were out all over the southern region. Cars, vans and even mobile homes — tossed around in Sunday’s flood as if they were toys — came to rest in demolished conditions along creek beds. In some areas, homes, churches, schools and businesses were totally demolished. Water, sewer, telephone, gas and electricity lines are ruined as well.

The town of Mullens is so devastated that some of its 2,000 residents are wondering if it’s even possible to rebuild. Out of 36 businesses in the small coalfield town, nearly every one was demolished as fierce, muddy water — 12 feet deep in some places — ransacked property and landscape along the Appalachian mountain area.

Likewise, “Every business in Kimball was destroyed,” reported Lt. Col. Ed Kornish, National Guard liaison officer.

In Wyoming County, an estimated 75 percent of the businesses suffered damage.

Remarkably, only a few deaths have been reported, mainly because the flooding occurred during daylight hours. When the same area was ravaged by floods in 1975 in the middle of the night, more than 50 people were killed.

Many areas of southern West Virginia, also known as Appalachia, are notoriously poor, if not poverty-stricken, especially since the demise of the coal industry. Most residents and business owners, who on a normal day are struggling to meet financial obligations, have no flood insurance due to its cost.

In Keystone, McDowell County, the beautiful Cherry-Key Inn bed-and-breakfast — along with other homes and businesses — was filled with muddy river water up to the second floor, destroying all of the antique furniture. A devastating flood was the last thing Keystone residents needed. The economy has been in a desperate situation since September 1999 when the bank failed. Then on July 8, people here and in other little West Virginia towns who stilled owed thousands of dollars on their homes, offices and vehicles, found their property slammed up against other buildings or trees by the time the water subsided July 9.

Residents in at least one town, Oceana, do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) financial assistance since in 1973 city officials decided not to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program due to the cost of bringing their town into compliance with regulations. As of July 13, however, negotiations are underway for remedy the situation.

“The people here need help,” State Farm insurance agent Butch McNeely said, commenting on the magnitude of the devastation. “You couldn’t have had a bomb go off and do more than what’s happened here,” he said.

The threat of tetanus and typhoid is another concern as at least tetanus serum is in short supply and many places where the shots normally would be available in rural areas — doctors’ offices and other medical facilities — were wiped out or damaged along with the homes.

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  • Debbie Moore