WV flood recovery lags

Many West Virginia families are still living in damaged homes months after floodwaters hit.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | McDOWELL COUNTY, W.V. | February 11, 2003

"We're not just looking house by house. We're looking at communities."

—Bonnie Mallott

Cleaning up after a major flood is never much fun. Front yards are transformed into mud pits, basements into toxic cesspools, insulation and crawlspaces into mold factories.

But cleanup is made more difficult when two major floods strike within a year of each other, making an existing mess even bigger and messier.

This is what happened in July 2001 and May 2002 in parts of rural West Virginia, and particularly in McDowell County, according to Bonnie Mallott, the director of the West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps (WVMAW).

"That's why the McDowell Recovery Task Force still has over 300 cases of unmet needs, and over 200 of those are construction-related," she said.

Mallott's group is one of many that have worked to help the people affected by these floods.

Most afflicted families are still living in their flood-damaged homes.

"They generally don't have any other place to go," she said.

Mallott has worked with one family who moved into a FEMA trailer, "but most of them just stayed where they are," she said.

Now, thanks to a $132, 500 grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), Mallott's program will be able to expand its work considerably.

Much of the work done by WVMAW has been construction-or renovation, mainly, although WVMAW may team up this summer with another organization, "Mustard Seeds and Mountains," to build a home from scratch.

WVMAV extensively renovated seven homes last year.

In addition the group has done a lot of general cleanup work-pumping out basements, ripping out walls, tearing out moldy insulation and rotten sheetrock and shoveling mud, sometimes a few feet deep, out of yards.

"Once the May floods hit in 2002,we were consumed with that sort of thing for several months," Mallott said. "So we have two different floods with two different stages of recovery."

In 2002, the WVMAW had nearly 50 teams, composed of about 15 people each, that came in to volunteer. And these volunteers don't just offer their time and sweat, she said; they also pay for the building materials they use.

About $45,000 of the PDA grant will go toward addressing these kinds of problems in McDowell and Wyoming counties.

With $25,000 of the new PDA funds, Mallot said WVMAW will take on another nasty problem-sewage.

This money will be used for a research project that will investigate sewer treatment in the flood-affected areas. This is a concern, she said, because, in some of these places, up to 60 percent of the homes discharge sewage directly into streams and rivers.

West Virginia has laws against this practice, Mallott said, but "these people are grandfathered."

The sewage problem became acute when floodwaters washed human waste all over the place-into yards, streets and basements.

"You had sewage washing into everybody's house," she said, "which is hazardous for everybody involved" residents as well as recovery workers.

With the grant, Mallott hopes to find ways that these rural homes, far away from any centralized water treatment system, can process sewage.

"We're not just looking house by house," she said. "We're looking at communities."

Another large chunk of the PDA grant will hire additional staff to supervise summer work teams.

This summer Mallott expects to have between 45-75 volunteers working at a time.

"Part of our philosophy is to not just try to make it like it was before, but to make it better," she said.

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