Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 6, 2012

Storm sparks blaze: State Homeland Security director’s home destroyed

KIMBALL — Markella Gianato has developed a strong fear of storms, and justifiably so. On July 8, 2001, her father, Adamantios (Tommy) Balasis was trapped in the second floor of their home in Kimball and had to be rescued in the bucket of a front-end loader.

Just 10 months later on May 2, 2002, another flood threatened to destroy the restaurant she and her husband, Jimmy Gianato were preparing to open in her family’s West Virginia Grocery building. Through both floods, the Gianatos, with the help of their friends, got their belongings above the flood waters and saved everything they could save.

“All my friends know I’m afraid of storms, so I didn’t want to go home when the storm blew through, I went down and stayed at the firehouse,” she said.

Both her husband, who is also director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as her son, Adam Gianato, are both active with the Kimball Volunteer Fire Department. Jimmy Gianato was at work in Charleston Friday night, monitoring the storm that caused damage in 53 of West Virginia’s 55 counties.

“I stayed until 2:30 a.m., when everything had settled down,” Gianato said. “I drove home, and when I opened the garage door, I could smell something burning. I knew it couldn’t be the car because I hadn’t driven that far. The power was off, but the power was off all over town. When I opened the door to our television room, I saw that everything was burned inside.”

She paused. Her lips quivered slightly. She brushed aside a tear and continued. “No more lemonade,” she said. “My parents went through a lot more than we have, so I don’t have anything to complain about.”

Her father, Adamantios (Tommy) Balasis, was from the island of Chios, Greece. His father (Markella’s grandfather) died and left a big debt to the hospital where he was staying, and his son, Tommy Balasis became an indentured servant on a merchant marine ship to pay off the family’s debts. He was in Providence, Rhode Island in 1939 and skipped ship, fearing that he would die. Indeed, the ship was sunk by a German U-Boat, and all aboard died.

“It could have been worst for us,” Gianato said. “One of us could have been inside when the fire happened. As it was, the fire burned through a large PVC pipe, and the water extinguished the fire. But we still lost almost everything but our pictures.”

Gianato was conflicted about taking her 5-year-old grandson, James Matthew Gianato into the house, but she talked with him about “things,” and reminded him about the most important things in life.

“As we walked through the house, he saw all of his things,” Gianato said. “When he saw his Leggos, he said: ‘Oh no. Not my weggos.’ When he saw his Scooby Do, he said: ‘Oh no! Not my Scooby Do,’ and when he saw the rocker that he sat in the television room, he said: ‘Oh no! Not my wocking chair. Now, that’s gone far enough.’ Still, he thought about it for a few moments and said: ‘They’re only things,’ and smiled at me.”

She said that an insurance adjuster has already been to their home and advised them to remove their personal items before the cleaning company arrives.

Although Jimmy Gianato has speculated about the cause of the fire, Markella Gianato said they plan to have the state Fire Marshal examine the home before it is cleaned.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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