Through the years, people celebrate events, occasions, etc. as they come around yearly.
This week, Friday, June 23, marks the day many in Clay County, as well as others across the state of West Virginia, experienced a flood that changed the lives for many and the history for the state of West Virginia.
The day started normal with storms in the forecast. As the day went on, the rain came and got heavier. Reports of flooding started to roll in and then of homes being flooded, road ways becoming impassable. By evening time, the reports of high waters were all over the place.
By the night, you heard of people being stranded on the roofs of their homes, buildings, climbing mountains to higher ground. Some people were stranded all night long and wondered how long it would take before someone came to rescue them, and some rescuers got stranded with those they were trying to help until daylight came the next morning.
Nearly 500 people were stuck in an Elkview shopping center when flood waters washed away the bridge that connected the shopping center to the main roadway.People who worked at the businesses in the shopping center lost their jobs or had to work in different locations for the same company. People lost their homes, their belongings, some everything they owned but the clothes on their backs, some lost a few things, some lost nothing and some in other parts of West Virginia lost their lives. In total, 23 lives were lost and over 5,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.
Even if you weren’t in the path of the flood and lost things that can be replaced or unfortunately a loved one, everyone was affected in some sort of way. Meteorologists deemed this natural disaster as a 1,000 year flood.
By the next morning, first responders and volunteers kicked into high gear to start getting to the areas that were completely shut off from roadways being washed away to check on everyone and make sure they had food, water, flashlights, and other things that were needed until the roadways were reopened.
Fire departments, Clay County High School, and many other places around the county became donation stations. Donations came from all over. People who lived out of state who had family in flood-affected areas, and even those who didn’t but had such a generous heart because they are the caring, giving kind or because they have experienced natural disasters like this in their home areas, gathered donations by the truck loads and headed toward their destination. Palettes of water, MREs, shampoo, first aid kits, toiletries, clothes, sleeping bags, grills, everything that might be needed, was donated. A donation even extended to an ambulance due to one of Clay County’s ambulances being caught in flood waters and sustaining flood damage.
The National Guard had a strong presence in Clay County and the other affected areas in West Virginia for nearly a year. They aided in clean up and demolition of destroyed homes and buildings. Many referred to their hometowns resembling a “war zone,” with all of the activity that was going on. Big name movie star, Jennifer Garner, and country music star, Brad Paisley, helped raise money for flood victims and bring awareness to the rest of the country that once the news stopped showing the damage, it didn’t just go away.
Places here in Clay were affected from the Elk River and the many streams that flowed into it. Waters rose high, broke their banks and flowed into roads, homes and businesses, including the Clay County Free Press office in Clay.
The Elk River reached an all-time high of 33.37 feet. Homes were destroyed, washed away from their foundations, businesses lost documents and had to be repaired and renovated. Roadways were washed away.
In Valley View Drive in Clay County, the whole road and creek had to be rebuilt just so it could be paved for the residents up that way. Camp Creek bridge had debris piled up on it from how high the waters were in the Elk River that it crosses. After flood waters receded, the bridge was deemed impassable to anyone but pedestrians. For months, and still yet, residents have had to travel 30 minutes to an hour around out of their way to travel across Queen Shoals bridge just to hit the main highway. Now, a new bridge is being built to replace the damaged one, and residents there are eagerly awaiting the finish of that bridge so they can return back to their normal route.
Although things will never be the same, the fear of a flood when storms come will haunt many and make them anxious, West Virginia has proven to remain strong and vigorous. No one hesitated to help others. When donations of water, food, etc. came around, they would say “no thanks, my neighbor may need it more.” Although there were plenty of donations, that just shows the kind, generous, caring hearts people in West Virginia have.
Days turned into weeks and weeks of rummaging through debris turned into months. People had to stay with family members or some other alternative for a place to stay. Summer ended and school resumed, people tried to return to life as normal as possible.
Things will never be the same and with the one year anniversary coming up, feelings are returning to everyone. It will always be hard for everyone who had to experience the flood in some sort of way. As the years pass, buildings will be rebuilt or renovated, people will move into new homes in new locations in fear of returning to the same location that was flooded, and some will rebuild where they were before, determined not to leave their home. The memories will last forever and it will go down in the history of West Virginia.
On Friday, June 23, from 6-8 p.m. at the Clay County Courthouse square, there will be a Celebration of Recovery. Food will be available, music, recognition of first responders, balloon launch and candle lighting service and much more will happen. Anyone affected by the flood is invited to attend.
We will always and forever remain #ClayCountyStrong #WestVirginiaStrong.