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WV recovery slow after summer floods

BY ROBERT BRUCE | ELKVIEW, WV | December 2, 1998

ELKVIEW, WV (Dec. 2, 1998) -- Most of the year the Elk River is nearly

dry, but in when it rains, the Ohio River tributary often rips through the West Virginia hill

country like a scythe.

Clark Peloubet, is a United Methodist minister in Alderson, 150 miles

south of the community of Elkview, which was hardest hit by torrential rains and

flooding last summer. Peloubet has "worked 40 or 50 floods in West Virginia

the past 10 years" with the assistance of the United Methodist Committee on

Relief, but last July got to him.

"This young mother, in her 20s, was trying to get out of her trailer,"

Peloubet said, "and she didn't know the stream had torn down the hillside

and ripped her front porch away. She stepped out and dropped into the

water."

The young woman lost her grip on her 4-month-old baby and never saw it

again. Four days later rescue workers found the body downstream.

Last summer's floods were the second "100-year" floods in two years,

according to state officials. Nearly 1,500 homes around Charleston were

damaged or destroyed, and Gov. Cecil H. Underwood declared 20 counties

disaster areas.

One woman died of a heart attack while she was burying a dead animal, while

a man in a wheelchair was swept off his porch. In all, four people died and

hundreds became homeless.

Many of the mobile homes were in the flood plain, and had been damaged in

the floods of March 1997. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave an

average of $2,600 per family in grants to those unable to qualify for

loans, but even that relief source may dry up.

FEMA provided $5.5 million in temporary housing assistance for 2,433

families, and $2.7 million in individual and family grants following the

June floods, according to Philip Clark, the agency's external affairs

officer for the region.

"We gave the bulk of the money to the state (to distribute)," Clark said.

"The loans go only to those capable of repaying, then the others are

considered for grants."

FEMA director James Lee Witt said recently that "We are considering denying

national flood insurance to homeowners who have filed two or more claims . . .

and who refuse to elevate their home, refuse to flood-proof their home or

refuse to accept a buy-out relocation offer."

Meanwhile, local disaster response organizations are trying to pick up

the slack.

It's hard to assess the damage in many cases, in part because many people

who live in the hills of West Virginia are suspicious of outsiders, but

also because one disaster just seems to blend into another.

"There is not a very good record of the damage because of earlier floods,"

said Kristina Peterson, a Disaster Relief Consultant of Church World

Service. She and her husband, Richard Krajeski, helped out right after the

June floods.

Evelyn Robertson is mayor of the town of Clendinen just north of Charleston

on the Elk River. She said even people who live in the area have trouble

identifying who needs help. "I have tried to work with the school to find

out who needs help," she said. "There are always unmet needs I hear about,

but so many people just up and left.

"Many people don't get enough from FEMA, and so many people out there need

help," Robertson said. "The Church of Christ supplied boxes of cleaning

supplies, and the Methodist relief (UMCOR) sent people in who actually did

labor, like carpentry. They went around and put in new floors and so

forth."

When Clark Peloubet met the young couple at a Red Cross shelter 10 days

after their baby drowned, they were so grief-stricken they were unable to

eat. Peloubet did what he has learned best - he put his arm around the

young woman.

"People are often confused after disasters," he said. They don't understand

all the information coming at them. My success is being able to sit with

people and explain things to them."

Posted Dec. 2, 1998


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