Deadly and destructive were the rains that swelled creeks, streams, and rivers throughout a 44-county area in central and southern West Virginia last Thursday and caused massive flooding that led to 23 tragic deaths and the destruction of homes, businesses, schools, roadways, and small bridges.
Twelve victims have been identified, and three residents are unaccounted for in Greenbrier County; six deaths have been reported in Kanawha County; one perished in Jackson County; and officials are counting the death of an 8-year-old boy in Elm Grove after the youth fell into Big Wheeling Creek last Thursday afternoon.
Three West Virginia counties were declared federal disaster areas initially, and W.Va. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin expanded his request to the federal government to include Clay, Fayette, Monroe, Pocahontas, Roane, Summers, and Webster counties. In Webster County alone 25 homes were destroyed, and 30 others sustained extensive damage.
“And there could be even more counties added, too,” said W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-3rd). “There are some areas in the affected counties that aren’t accessible right now because of the damage that was caused, from what I’m understanding. Once the FEMA officials can get there, I’m sure some of those areas will be added so they can get the help they need from the federal government.”
The reaction in the Northern Panhandle has been in “the-masses-to-the-rescue” fashion with non-profits, private businesses, local individuals, and state lawmakers responding quickly by initiating donation drives and drop-off locations, public awareness campaigns, and personal contributions.
While this is not a complete listing of those efforts, it is an example of the efforts being made in the Wheeling Metro Area. If you are aware of additional efforts being made in the Upper Ohio Valley, please feel to share the information by making a comment at the end of this article – and thank you in advance.
- The Robinson Auto Group at The Highlands began collecting monetary and material donations last Saturday and will continue accepting and transporting donations as long the need exists.
- Fluharty accepted donations Tuesday in front of the Harris Law Firm, his office building, and the lawmaker will transport the goods when the truck is full.
- Youth Services System began collecting monetary and material donations Monday as did the Hilltop Grocery in West Liberty.
- YWCA, the C-3 Church, Panhandling Cleaning & Restoration, and the House of Carpenter on Wheeling Island also are locations for donation drop-offs, and the church also is dispatching two groups to the Summersville area to assist with debris collection and supply distribution.
- The Marshall County Animal Shelter is collecting pet supplies.
- Boy Scout Troop 82 from Glen Dale, W. Va., will be collecting items for the flood-ravished victims in the state today from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the building near the Warren Distribution plant.
- Wheeling Brewing Company is donating 20 percent of this week’s beverage sales to the flood victims.
- The West Virginia Community Development Hub has shared information for those wishing to donate and volunteer during the recovery process.
- To learn more about volunteering: http://www.volunteerwv.org/2/index.cfm
- The register to volunteer: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/16Floods
- To donate to the American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/local/west-virginia
- To locate a shelter operated by the Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/disaster-relief-and-recovery/find-an-open-shelter
- This website was created by the state’s Attorney General’s office and offers much information: http://wvflood.com/index.php
“We started collecting as soon as we found out everything that happened in the affected counties for a couple of reasons,” explained Roberta Olejasz, automobile dealer for Bob Robinson Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac. “One, Mountaineers always prop-up Mountaineers. That’s what we do in this state, and that’s pretty special.
“And my family and I were at the Greenbrier Hotel on Wednesday for a conference for the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Association, and on the way home we drove through so many of those smaller towns that have been devastated by this flood,” she continued. “And no one there had a clue that kind of weather was heading in their direction. No one mentioned anything. It caught everyone there by surprise.”
Since her return to Ohio County, Olejasz has made several connections with other auto dealers in the affected counties, and the first truck she dispatched Monday arrived in Greenbrier County later that day.
“I didn’t have a chance to have a conference call with association members until Monday morning, but I really didn’t want to wait for that,” she explained. “I made contact with a friend of mine in Greenbrier County, and that’s why the first truck went there. I just knew that we had to start immediately.”
On Monday, both Liberty Distributing and Cabela’s Outfitters contributed several palettes of bottled water and other goods.
“And we plan to collect and deliver donations for as long as it’s needed. There’s really no telling how long that may be,” Olejasz continued. “We’ve had so many of our customers here at the dealership who found out what we were doing, and when they were finished here, they went straight to The Highlands and bought supplies, came back, and donated them. We hope that kindness continues for as long as it’s necessary for our fellow West Virginians.”
Memories Spur Action
Fluharty knew he needed a truck because of his memories as a 12-year-old boy in 1996, when he lived with his mother in a trailer park in Marshall County. The Ohio River crested well over 40 feet in mid-January, and the family home was inches away from destruction.
It scared him.
The state delegate also recalls the flash river flooding that took place in the Wheeling area in September 2004 and again on Wheeling Island in January 2005. The mass amount of debris left on curbs in the Wheeling Island, Elm Grove, Dimmeydale, Pleasanton, Edgwood, Woodsdale, Clator, South Wheeling, Triadelphia, and Valley Grove areas, though, pales in comparison to the destruction of property and infrastructure within the hardest hit Mountain State counties.
“We were hit very hard then and it caused a lot of damage to this area, but down there we’re talking about people watching their burning houses flowing down flooded creeks,” the representative said. “In the affected areas we’re looking at communities that have been changed forever because they have lost every single belonging they owned except the clothes on their backs. The recovery process is going to be a long one, and it’s one that could take years, really.
“I knew I needed to do something, and I can tell you that it was pretty difficult to locate a U-Haul that I could rent so I could organize a donation drive and take it to where it needs to be. That’s how this area has reacted. Everyone wanted a truck,” Fluharty continued. “But I was able to secure one for a one-way trip to Kanawha County, so I can get those supplies down there, and I’ll get back home thanks to a friend who will bring me back to Wheeling the next day.”
The most needed materials other than monetary donations, no matter the preference of a drop-off location, are extensive, but most of the items on the list are items that many take for granted.
- Cleaning supplies, diapers, hygiene products, water; non-perishable foods, clothing – all ages
- Batteries, blankets, pillows, feminine products, toothbrushes and toothpaste, wipes, pet products and food, laundry detergent, flashlights
“Whenever the truck is full is when I am planning on jumping in and getting those donations down there,” Fluharty said. “And I’m not the only state lawmaker who is doing this, and the delegates and senators from these areas have been reaching out to the rest of us letting us know what the victims need.
“Once the truck is full, I’ll be heading south with our help,” he added, “and if I need to do it again, that’s what I’ll do.”
‘Everything Is Still Unfolding’
It just makes sense to the folks at Youth Services System.
Ask the agency’s development director Tammy Kruse.
“It’s what we do here,” she said. “And it’s been so impressive already, and these folks have already exceeded my expectations. To be honest, I didn’t expect as many people who have stopped by already and that’s because so many good folks are doing the same thing in this area,” Kruse said. “That fact says a lot about our neighbors. When there are people in need, others do what they can to help consistently in this area.
“We’re going to collect as long as it’s necessary because down there everything is still unfolding. We have to wait to see what happens and what the ongoing needs are,” she said. “And what we are doing to dropping what we collect off to Rose Hart form Appalachian Outreach. Rose is connected to the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.”
YSS is headquartered in the Hazel Atlas Building located at 87 15th St. in East Wheeling. Those wishing to donate simply can pull in front of the building and deposit the goods on the first floor. YSS staff members are available to assist in heavy lifting.
“We’ve opened up our central office building in East Wheeling as a drop-off location for the donations for the people down south,” Kruse explained. “We’ll be collecting those donations all week and beyond from 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day except Sunday. We’re collecting Saturday, too, because we realize how busy people are, and maybe that’s a better day for them to contribute.
“We’ve seen a very positive reaction from the people in this area. People have been coming in and showing remorse because of what has happened to so many people down there, and they just want to be a part of that recovery process,” she said. “We’ve seen everything from cases of Clorox to peanut butter and crackers. People have been donating the things that we usually take for granted because people have realized that those folks have lost everything.”
One couple caught Kruse’s attention on Monday.
“Early on Monday we had a couple come to YSS with cases of Clorox and water and peanut butter. They knew exactly what to bring,” Kruse said. “Because of what they donated, I asked them if they had been through a flood before, and the lady said, ‘No, but we have had family members who have lost everything in a flood.
“She didn’t specify what flood, but she also said they had a family member who had been involved in a fire disaster, too, so they knew exactly what the needs are in that situation,” she continued. “Losing everything, or most everything, is a horrible situation for anyone to be in. You have to start over at that point, and I think that’s why they thought they needed to contribute in the way they did.”
Heroism has been documented in West Virginia by the national media and by local and state press members. West Virginia Metro News, the Charleston Gazette, and several other reporters from different agencies have shared accounts of state citizens risking their salvaged lives to rescue others while inch after inch of precipitation descended in mere hours.
The state’s National Guard was deployed to the impacted areas to help with the debris removal and to survey the region from the air to located stranded residents and to assess damage, and Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler, in an interview with West Virginia Metro News, warned potential looters when saying, “If the residents of this area catch you first, you may not make it to jail.”
“As a lifelong resident of Southern West Virginia, I am all too familiar with flooding and know how it can devastate a community,” Gov. Tomblin stated in a press release. “But of all the floods I have witnessed in my life, and particularly in my time as governor, I have never seen tragedy like we have experienced in several of our communities in the past four days. Families have lost everything — homes and loved ones, even children. Visiting Rainelle and Clendenin (Monday) made this heartache even more real for me today.
“Today I talked with Mike Todorovich, a pastor in Clendenin whose church sustained major damage,” Gov. Tomblin continued. “Before the floodwaters rose, Mike saw people sleeping in their cars in the church parking lot, so he brought them into the church, where they remained safe on the second floor. He is one of many, many heroes in this tragedy.”
Mike Manypenny, a former member of the House of Delegates and currently a Democratic congressional candidate in the Mountain State’s 1st District, immediately began to organize individuals throughout the district in effort to centralize efforts so donations could flow in the most needed directions instead of in sporadic fashion.
“I have been reaching out to a lot of different friends from around the state to coordinate collection efforts so it can be as organized as possible,” Manypenny said. “That way we can all concentrate on what the needs are for these flood victims so we can provided true relief for them.
“The response has been overwhelming from around our state, and it proves, once again, that we can unite when something as catastrophic like this happens to our fellow state residents,” he said. “It’s not the first time I have witnessed a response like this one, but every time it takes place, it solidifies that West Virginia is a great place to live.”
Wheeling resident and local business owner John Angius is a native of Richwood, W.Va., a Nicholas County community that sustained such severe damage that manpower remains an enormous challenge. Large piles of household items and furniture line most streets in Richwood and excavators had to be used on a plethora of structures completely destroyed by flooding.
That is why Angius will depart Wheeling on Thursday for his hometown after he’s spent this week collecting material and monetary donations.
“I am going to take down a pick-up truck load of supplies along with Scott Davis. I’ve also collected $700 in cash to give to the Richwood Fire Department,” he explained. “I am originally from Richwood, and it’s a great small town that has endured a lot of damage, so we will leave at 9 a.m. Thursday morning from the Warwood Subway. If anyone wants to donate anything, they can bring it to Subway. You can be sure everything will get to the proper people because my objective is to help the people in Richwood.”
(Cover photo by Tammy Kruse)