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Ky. Baptists provide meals, water, after devastating West Va. floods

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist disaster relief teams from Kentucky arrived in southern West Virginia July 12 to help victims of floodwaters that crashed through eight counties July 8, and wiped out 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 flowed through people’s property transformed into explosive ten-foot walls of water that devastated everything in the path.

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 devastation 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.”

Disaster relief teams from the Florida Baptist Convention are due to arrive July 16.

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 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, Wyoming County. Such distressed statements of shock have filled newspapers, local TV news broadcasts and radio news-talk programs all week.

One thousand National Guard troops have been activated throughout West Virginia 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 are closed and bridges are out all over the area. Cars, vans and even mobile homes — tossed around in Sunday’s flood as if they were toys — came to rest in demolished conditions along now calm creek beds.

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, almost every one of them 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,” according to 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.

Residents in at least one town, Oceana, do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) financial assistance since in 1983 city officials decided not to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

“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