Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 12, 2014

Floods devastating, but community spirit shines through

— — I was heading for work last Thursday morning when I suddenly received a text. I checked my phone and learned that McDowell County had been hit with some flooding early that morning.

When I got to the newsroom, I got some more details; several communities around the Panther area had been flooded, and we had only general ideas about how bad the damage was. Photographer Eric DiNovo and myself were going to hit the road, but first I stopped at my car and took a pair of old sneakers out of the trunk. I keep a pair of broken-down shoes handy in case I have to visit a place where decent shoes might get ruined. It turned out to be a good precaution.

Eric had not been to Panther for years, and I don’t think I’ve ever visited that particular section of McDowell County. Eric downloaded some directions from Google and we headed up U.S. Route 52. We had a general idea of the route, and we were ready to ask questions along the way.

The trip was long thanks to slow traffic. You often get stuck behind big rigs and have no way to get around them. Finally, we turned off outside of Welch and headed toward Panther.

I have a rule of thumb when traveling in McDowell County: Just about the time you think you’re lost, you’ll arrive at your destination. We stopped at a store, got some directions, and soon found ourselves in a place hit by a flood.

Sheriff Martin West was on the scene along with deputies and workers with the state Department of Highways. Down the road, several men were shoveling and spraying mud off a driveway. Most of the road and almost every driveway was covered with a thick, slick, mud, and every private bridge over the creek was tangled in a mess of weeds, sticks and other debris. A sticky heat was in the air.

Eric and I headed down the road to Panther and saw the flood’s impact everywhere. There were more fouled up bridges, some bridges that had been wash off their stations, and ruined vehicles.

We stopped at one home and learned that the flood had hit hard, and suddenly. One woman said a neighbor called to let her know that her car was floating. There were small dunes of that gooey mix of brown sand and mud all over the place, and a beach sand smell in the air. Everyone reported seeing crayfish, or crawdads as they are better known, all over the place. The water had come within a foot of coming into a house. Another man who had lived there for decades said the high water was the worst he had seen in 25 years. Other people counted themselves lucky because they had lost everything they owned in previous floods; the latest flood did not compare to ones in 2001 and 2002.

Most people were very lucky, but Mother Nature hit the home of 75-year-old Denver Hunt especially hard. His home had been washed off its foundations and filled with mud; the next day, what was left of the house burned down. A neighbor alerted him before the flood hit, and while he was upset, he thanked God that he still had his life. I admired his fortitude. I’m not sure how I would react if what I had taken years to build was suddenly destroyed. I would like to think that starting over again would be an option.

Hunt’s neighbors were helping him, and this was not an isolated incident. People were helping each other clean up property and assess the damage. This spirit of people helping people extended to Eric and me when we stopped at the Panther Community Connect Center, a small facility where locals can access the Internet. There we were able to make a couple of quick phone calls — we couldn’t get cell service thanks to the mountains — and send some photographs back to Bluefield.

The news that day wasn’t completely bad. One dog named Sissy was trapped in a cattle trailer — she was being kept there because she was in heat — when the water rose and her owner couldn’t reach her. She managed to reach a part of the trailer that stayed above the flood, and survived.

Relief efforts are underway, and hopefully there are ways to keep floodwaters from surging through those communities again. Nobody should have to experience a flood again or wonder whether a flood is coming every time rain falls. That kind of uncertainty can be hard on the nerves. Some members of my family have been through floods, and their recollections are never good. We tell stories to each other and sometimes laugh, but flood stories are never among those tales.

I will admit that covering floods can be interesting, but I prefer them to be few and far between.

Greg Jordan is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

 

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