Joe Rock

Joe Rock

RICHLANDS, Va. — Joe Rock was standing on his front porch on East First Street in Richlands, dressed warmly as the snow swirled and cold wind howled.

His feet stood on a layer of dark brown mud, left behind from the Clinch River as it flooded on a much warmer Thursday, escaping its banks and pouring into his house.

“It was about 2 feet deep in my house,” he said. “I lost everything, furniture, beds, everything.”

The New York native said he saw the Clinch River, which flows directly behind his house, rising early Thursday morning, but it had happened before and he was not that concerned initially.

His house sits on the west bank of the Clinch as it flows into the downtown area, and by 6:45 a.m., though, he began to be worried.

“It was about 4 feet from the back of my house by that time,” he said.

As it got closer and closer and started surrounding his house, he knew it was probably a good idea to get his family out.

“My wife and my son, they went to her mother’s and they are safe,” he said. “All my animals are safe. I’ve got four dogs and two cats.”

But Rock did not want to leave and said he pulled his dock to the front and tied it to his mailbox so it would not wash away, planning at that point to ride it out.

“They evacuated earlier and I wasn’t going to go anywhere because usually the water doesn’t get high like that,” he said. “I have lived here eight years. I have seen it go across the road, but never into my house.”

In fact, he thought it would never get high enough to go into his house.

But as the day wore on, he realized he was wrong.

“It kept coming up and I decided to leave,” he said. “I left probably about 5 or 6 (p.m., Thursday).”

Although by that time It was waste deep in the road (East First Street) in front of his house, he did not try to call to be evacuated. Those evacuations had already happened.

“They had brought boats in earlier to bring people out,” he said, but he missed his chance, hoping the water level would stabilize.

However, it kept rising, and Rock knew he needed to leave.

“The only way to leave by then was to wade out,” he said, and that’s what he did. “Usually I stay for the whole thing but I couldn’t, it was just too high.”

He did see one other rescue after he was on higher ground.

“There were some people rescued from a trailer over there right after I left,” he said, pointing across the street, but the water was well over and above the street at that point and threatening those houses on the other side of East First Street, which were on a bit higher ground.

After a night with his family, he returned to his home on Friday morning and surveyed the mess and damage.

Rock pointed out the leaves at the top of the fence in the yard, which is how high the water rose, going up about 4 feet on the side of his house and 2 feet above the floor of his front porch.

It was an “awful experience,” he said.

But Rock was philosophical about the mess and the loss of his possessions “because they can be replaced.”

“I am not attached to it,” he said. “My babies, my family, that’s a different story. That’s my life. They can’t be replaced.”

And he was ready to get back in his home as soon as possible.

“A little cleanup and I’ll start over again,” he said.

Rock said he has no intentions of moving, because despite its power and the possible danger, “I love the river.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at


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