From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
West Virginians Clean up after Second Major Flood of the Year
09 Jun 1996 20:22:43
May 29, 1996
96210 West Virginians Clean up after Second Major
Flood of the Year
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--With people still cleaning up from January's floods, towns
and isolated homes along West Virginia's major rivers got flooded again May
17 when the Ohio, Kanawha, Greenbrier and Tygart Valley Rivers all
overflowed their banks.
This time, 17 of West Virginia's 55 counties were declared federal
disaster areas -- half of them for the second time since January, according
to the Rev. Richard L. Krajeski of the First Presbyterian Church in
Mannington, W.Va., and a Church World Service (CWS) disaster relief
CWS is the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, based in
New York City.
"This means people have to go through it again," Krajeski told the
Presbyterian News Service, "and that gets really, really difficult. ...
"West Virginia's had three or four 100-year floods in the past few
months," he said, meaning there's about one chance every 100 years of a
flood that size in the state, where unemployment is already swelling,
family resources are already stretched and people already living on fixed
incomes are unable to keep up flood insurance payments of $500-1,000 each
year. "But it's an invisible disaster. The media seems to prefer things
that go bang and smoke."
Krajeski said that an estimated 8,000-9,000 homes were affected by May
floods -- more than 1,000 of them already heavily damaged by January flash
floods caused by heavy snows and rain. Literally "hundreds" of bridges are
washed out or damaged, Krajeski said, stranding some families in isolated
"People weep when the heavy rains come," said West Virginia Presbytery
executive the Rev. W. Wilson "Brad" Bradburn of Charleston, stressing that
some families are saddled with impossible-to-sell property that is
repeatedly saturated by rain and swept away by fast water in the state's
narrow valleys. "And they wonder, Am I going to have to live through this
again?' Pastors are helping people cope with that ... and with the
frustration of limited resources.
"You can't build a dam on your own."
But in Parsons -- where the Black Fork, Dry Fork, Shaver Fork,
Blackwater and Cheat Rivers converge in north-central West Virginia -- some
of the 1,700 residents are threatening to do just that. "People are just
terribly, terribly frustrated," said Elder Mariwyn Smith, editor of the
"Parsons Advocate" and member of the Parsons Presbyterian Church, who said
residents met with legislators there last week to demand assistance. "They
can't seem to get help to get the river dredged or to get dykes built to
protect the town. ... People say they can't live through another year or
two of studies [to lengthen one of the town's two flood walls].
"They're threatening to get in the river," she said, citing increased
tension since January's flooding cost Parsons 135 jobs when its flagging
shoe factory flooded and closed. May flooding, she said, caused at least
80 people to evacuate their homes. The Presbyterian Church fellowship
hall, kitchen and Sunday school rooms -- which flooded in January -- were
spared flooding this time only because an elder duct-taped plastic around
the doors, holding water back from the sanctuary.
In 1985, the then-new sanctuary in Parsons was destroyed by
now-legendary flooding caused by the remnants of a hurricane that also
destroyed 3,500 homes and 180 businesses across the state and killed 47
people. "People say the 85 flood rearranged the level of the riverbed,"
said the Rev. Ellen Thomas of the Parsons church. "They say the landscape
has really changed."
The Rev. David Bower of Beverly Presbyterian Church in Randolph County
-- whose office furniture is stacked in his living room to avoid the water
that has taken over the manse basement -- concurs with that assessment. He
said none of West Virginia's well-rooted residents remembers such a close
streak of floods before. "Everybody's doing what they can to help one
another ... [while] wondering, How are we gonna dig out one more time?
When's it gonna come next?'
"It means a lot of uncertainty. And in this household some sleepless
nights," Bower said, pointing out that flood stress is cumulative.
"There's major damage to important roads; there's increased commuting time.
Driving is more hazardous, so you have to change schedules and plans.
That's more stress. ...
"There is a flash-flood watch all day today [May 29]."
The Philippi Presbyterian Church is estimating $5,000-6,000 damage to
its fellowship hall, kitchen and nursery this time, according to its
pastor, the Rev. Larry Bowald, who has been serving in Philippi and its
neighboring town, Belington, for nearly three years. The water stopped
this time six inches short of the church's first floor -- and about two
inches from the sanctuary entrance. "We're cleaning up," he said. "It's
discouraging, but not overwhelming.
"People clean up and go," he said, adding that the sanctuary flooded
in 1985 and the church basement in 1994.
Further east in rural Pendleton County -- along the north fork of the
South Branch of the Potomac -- Jane Williams of the Circleville
Presbyterian Church is looking at a lot of cleanup in her hay fields.
"We're farmers," she said, "and we're going to be moving dirt ... rocks,
limbs, debris. ... [This flood] washed most of the topsoil on down the
"The local comment here in January was: If 85 didn't get you, this
Bradburn said flood stories are becoming too common -- but few West
Virginians are ready to pack up and leave. "There was real devastation in
January. And there was a serious repeat this month. People don't recover
that fast emotionally," he said, emphasizing both the very real stress in
West Virginia and the love people have for their land. "People are very
"If you're [here] on a sunny day in the spring or fall and you see
these beautiful sites, you see why people love it so much. ... [That's why]
sometimes they're willing to risk, to gamble that the waters aren't going
to hurt them. They think, Maybe the water will come up again sometime. ..."
Bradburn said, pausing.
"Or they think, Maybe I'll be lucky next time."
Church World Service has issued a $10,000 appeal for West Virginia
flooding to supply blankets, health kits, water purification tablets and
emergency funds. Aid will be dispensed through the West Virginia Council
of Churches. The Presbyterian World Service account number to use when
sending a donation is #9-2000125 (Northeast U.S. Flood Relief).
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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