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Hundreds forced from homes in WV

BY HENRY BRIER | CHARLESTON, WV | July 9, 2001


"Some homes were completely destroyed. We're still struggling, and some folks lost everything they had."

—Arnold Martin


Southern West Virginia lowlands, situated between high hills, once again fell victim Sunday to torrential rains and sudden cloud bursts, resulting in up to 40 bridges washed away and the drowning death of a four-year-old girl. It is the second major disaster to hit the area this year.

The tragedy began around 3:30 a.m., wreaking havoc on small towns in eight counties with dams that couldn't contain drainage pouring in from the hills, according to public safety officials.

"It was really a freak storm," said Arnold Martin, an American Red Cross volunteer, and local fire fighter. "Some homes were completely destroyed. We're still struggling, and some folks lost everything they had."

So far, the disaster's sole victim is a 4-year-old girl from Whipple, located in Fayette County, Martin said. Rushing waters swept her away from her yard on Sunday morning and her body was recovered later in the day.

There are about 500 families stranded along creeks, said Richard Krajeski, a disaster resource specialist with Church World Service/Emergency Response Program.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is among disaster response organizations responding to the disaster. UMCOR sent cleaning supplies to the hard-hit area on Monday.

"We had some terrible situations yesterday (Sunday) with the fire department," Martin said. "People were trapped on rooftops or trapped in homes with water coming up. They had cell phones and we could get to them by boat."

The afflicted region is known as the poorest part of the state and home to a large number of elderly residents, Krajeski said. Coal fields abound, as do mountains devoid of tops from which the waters rush down.

He said some blame those responsible for mountaintop removal and clearcut timbering as culpable for the latest round of flooding.

"Rain runs off like crazy," Krajeski said, adding roads are damaged, there are mudslides, and creeks are filled with silt. "Rain has to go somewhere and it significantly impacts the ferocity of the disaster."

There are reports of missing people, and some anticipate more deaths.

Several people who were missing were rescued Sunday night, Martin said.

"Most of the buildings in the area are in the low-lying hollows, in the creek beds down low," he said, describing the damage. "Some homes are completely destroyed, others are submerged in water.

"There are a lot of vehicles damaged and underwater. Some vehicles were completely swept away."


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