Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

October 25, 2012

A goal that is worth fighting for in flood-prone communities across the region

This week’s weather has been mostly sunny, but it doesn’t take much to remind me of those days when the word “sunny” just doesn’t apply. I was reminded of inclement weather and the news adventures it fuels when the weather turns nasty when the Shott Foundation donated $80,000 to the town of Matoaka so that community could alleviate the floods that inundate its streets periodically.

When you’re traveling through Matoaka and keeping your eyes on the road, you will probably miss Widemouth Creek, the waterway that runs through the town. I do know that when it floods, you can’t miss it. There have been times when you can’t even get through the town.

We try to visit flooded communities as soon as possible so we can get first-hand accounts from the people who have experienced the weather. I can still remember the 2002 flood that put Matoaka’s streets under waist-deep water.

If I’m recalling correctly, one family had to be evacuated by backhoe. One store owner told me how the water was pressed against his store’s windows. A coal truck came through the streets and set off a wave that broke a lot of glass.

The Shott Foundation grant will allow the town to dredge Widemouth Creek and reduce the chances for flooding. Matoaka is working to become a destination for ATV riders using the new Pocahontas Trail, a Mercer County branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, so being safer from floods will help the town reach that goal.

I can recall many of the times when one of the photographers and myself would climb into a car and tour the flooded areas, getting those images and details you just can’t get over the telephone. Sometimes the local floods were caused by obstructions such as trash and other debris choking the waterways. In other cases, structures were put in places that nature is determined to flood.

One time the town hall and the downtown in Bluefield, Va. had plenty of floods. I still remember an instance when I had to drive from Route 52 to Falls Mills and then back to Bluefield, Va. in order to reach an assignment. Like an idiot, I tried to drive through high water in Bluefield, Va. and almost didn’t make it.

My car — a Pontiac Grand Am I drove to near death — was never the same after that. I never tried that stunt again. You just don’t know what booby traps are waiting for you under that water.

Since that time, town hall and the police department have been move, the creek has been widened considerably, and the land where the old town hall once stood is now a park. If flood water reaches that park, it really can’t do much damage. Just clean up the place after the water recedes and everything will be fine.

 One place where we can often count on getting pictures of cars and trucks going through deep water is Stafford Drive in Princeton. The topography funnels water to intersections such as Bee Street and Trent Street, creating pools of high water that threaten businesses and homes. More than once, personnel at the senior center on Trent Street has resorted to sandbags and brooms to keep water out of the lobby.

The problem is that the drainage system along Stafford Drive can’t keep up with the volume of water that pours into the area almost every time heavy rain strikes. Princeton has applied for state Small Cities Block Grants to pay for drainage improvements, but those applications did not succeed. The city council recently presented petitions to the governor to help improve the chances of a new application being approved. Hopefully, this time the city will get the $500,000 needed to enlarge the drain system.

Thanks to southern West Virginia’s mountain topography, flooding will likely remain a problem in the future. I can say that the overall situation is better than it was when I started at the Daily Telegraph more than 20 years ago. Fewer homes and other structures are in the path of flood waters. This does not mean that the problem is over. Many people still have to keep their eyes on nearby creeks whenever heavy rain is forecasted.

A lot of work remains to be done so everybody can live without wondering whether their home will be underwater someday and if they will be able to save their family photographs and other precious possessions. It is a goal that is worth striving for in a region where floods are front page news.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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