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'Sad stories' in WV

"They keep finding new, sad stories," in the wake of this month’s severe flash floods in rural West Virginia, said Mary Virginia DeRoo of the West Virginia Council of Churches.

BY SUSAN KIM | CHARLESTON, W.Va. | June 26, 2003


"When you're on a hillside you don't expect high water,"

—Mary Virginia DeRoo


"They keep finding new, sad stories," in the wake of this month’s severe flash floods in rural West Virginia, said Mary Virginia DeRoo of the West Virginia Council of Churches. “You can't watch the local news without getting it."

The force of the water plummeting down the mountainsides is nearly indescribable, she added. "We saw three houses and everything in them that ended up all piled onto one lot."

She was on hand Thursday at the Morris Memorial United Methodist Church in Charleston as faith-based groups gathered to talk over how they will help people – many who've never been flooded before – cope.

West Virginia is known for flooding but this disaster is different, said DeRoo. Walls of rushing water – some up to eight feet high – descended down hillsides, striking homes at higher elevations. "When you're on a hillside you don't expect high water," she said. "So many flood survivors this time didn't have insurance. They thought they'd never need it."

Many people also saw their driveways wash away, leaving them either stranded in their homes or unable to get back home. Still others lost vehicles they can't afford to replace.

Two of the biggest recovery challenges here will be the lack of insurance and the breadth of the damaged area, said Sharon Miller of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "This damage is severe and it's scattered," she explained. "In the past floods have hit a smaller area but this time the damage is throughout the state."

Immediately after the flood, the Morris Memorial United Methodist Church became a hub of activity. When Church World Service (CWS) sent hundreds cleanup kits, health kits and school kits for flood survivors, volunteers from this church and others helped distribute them.

On Thursday a CWS disaster response and recovery liaison met with leaders from both the West Virginia Council of Churches and the West Virginia chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

West Virginia's flood woes began when several days of torrential rain sent a wall of floodwater rushing down creeks and roads in several rural counties west and north of Charleston. Two people were killed and 840 homes were affected. Some 300 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage, according to assessment reports from the American Red Cross.

Six counties – Cabell, Boone, Kanawha, Logan, Putnam and Wayne – received federal disaster declarations. Four more counties – Mingo, Nicholas, Wyoming and McDowell – sustained significant damage, and relief leaders are hoping those counties will also receive a federal declaration.

Water was still receding in some areas as late as Thursday, and damage tallies will only increase, according to reports from response leaders.


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