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Thousands of WV homes damaged

Flood protection walls prove ineffective as flash flooding washes off the mountains.

BY BOND BRUNGARD | GILBERT, WV | May 11, 2009


"Matewan has a flood wall and that didnít help because the water came from the back and not from the front"

—Robert Jelacic, WV Emergency Management


West Virginia has worked for many years to mitigate flood damage by moving houses and mobile homes out of low-lying areas. But when water started racing off the mountains in the southern part of the state early Saturday morning, May 10, some of the structures that were moved upland, proved vulnerable to the heavy rains.

Robert Jelacic, a spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the dense, southern mountains turned into dangerous waterslides because none of the rain could be absorbed into the ground.

“The ground is pretty much saturated because we’ve had so much rain during the last couple of weeks,” he said.

And during a 24-hour period, four inches of rain fell in here in Mingo County, the hardest hit county, while two and half to three inches of rain fell elsewhere.

Jelacic said 2,500 to 3,500 structures were damaged by the flooding. No injuries or deaths have been reported. A handful of shelters were opened, but Jelacic said almost no one used them and sought help from families or friends.

Mingo, Wyoming and McDowell counties were the hardest hit by the flooding. Gov. Jim Manchin toured Mingo County Sunday after it stopped raining and declared a state of emergency in that county as well as Wyoming, McDowell, Raleigh, Logan and Boone counties

“FEMA and state assessment teams are on the ground,” said Jelacic.

Jelacic said many private bridges were damaged in the flooding. And in places like Matewan, about 35 minutes south of Gilbert where flood walls have been built in the low-lying areas, those measures proved useless over the weekend.

“Matewan has a flood wall and that didn’t help because the water came from the back and not from the front,” he said.

Sylvia Easton, a member of the Matewan United Methodist Church, was cleaning up the church Monday after flood waters filled the basement. During a break to answer the phone, Easton said Sunday services on a beautiful Mother’s Day were sparse, drawing about 17 worshippers, but spiritual.

“We praised the Lord anyway,” she said. “We just didn’t go downstairs.”

One family, she said, came to services on a four-wheel ATV.

“They were talking about how the roadways were washed away underneath them,” she said.”

And those washed out roadways are keeping many in the hills and valleys from leaving their homes.

“There are still people in the hollows that haven’t been reached yet,” she said.

Catholic Charities of West Virginia is sending $25,000 for shelter and clothing to Mingo County and other affected areas.

“We’re still assessing,” said Sister Mary Lou Lisowski, the executive director of Catholic Charities West Virginia. “We’re using (the money) for direct assistance. We try to fill in the gaps.”


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