Hearing Hundred: A Rural Town’s Path to Flood Recovery
Communities in rural northern West Virginia towns are still cleaning up from and coping with the effects of flash flooding in July when a state of emergency was declared in eight counties. Hundred -- a small town in Wetzel County -- was among the hardest hit.
Donations are still being accepted at Hundred High School and at Union Bank, as well as online. Surplus donations are being forwarded on to Mannington, which is also still in recovery.
Some 7,000 hours of volunteer labor and thousands of meals have been served to residents in the Hundred area, so far. Volunteers are feeding fewer people at this point, but area churches are taking turns cooking and serving meals at the Hundred United Methodist Church from 1-4 p.m. daily until there’s no longer a need.
Hundred is at least 20 minutes from anywhere -- and 40 minutes from any large retail stores. You can only get to the town of about 200 people traveling along twisting winding ridges and hollows. While volunteers and the National Guard have cleared most of the town of debris, plastic debris and mud still clings high in the trees around the creek -- a stark reminder of how violent this small tributary can rapidly become.
For the past 30 years, Edward Wade and his immediate family lived on the edge of Hundred in a small trailer court along the West Virginia Fork Fish Creek. He said he’s never experienced anything in his 72 years like the waters that swept into his mobile home at 2 in the morning, on July 30.
“When the girls got out -- that was my main concern for them to go,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about myself.”
Rescuers couldn’t reach Edward. He sat in water up to his chest until morning.
“They ain't gonna get me back on the creek -- I’m done,” Edward said. “I stayed in there with the water up like that -- and the electric stayed on!”
Edward says looters have already tried to strip his abandoned mobile home of wires and electrical boxes. He and his step daughters just moved into a nearby home that a relative doesn’t occupy any more. They’re hoping to eventually buy the small house, but are happy to have a clean, dry place to live in for now.
Not everyone has been as lucky.
Hundred High School is still a base camp for relief supplies and food more than a week after the latest flood swept through town -- though volunteers are beginning to move supplies to a nearby business so that school can resume on time later this month.
Madeline VanScyoc, 13, is one such volunteer. Her family has a contracting business in Hundred that took a major hit, estimating they’ve taken $300 thousand in damage.
Madeline isn’t phased.
“People went through worse stuff than we did,” she said. And she would know. She’s been working at the school, helping families who have little left, getting to know the National Guard, and she says that’s allowed her to count her own blessings.
“There were two houses completely washed away. Some of the kids that I was watching the other day while their parents had to go out and get new shoes and stuff -- this little boy had nothing but a t-shirt and a diaper on because his whole room washed out. He had nothing.”
Lessons from Richwood and the Flood of 2016
Madeline’s mom, Beverly VanScyoc, is the guidance counselor at the high school but she’s taken over managing flood relief communications. When she isn’t collecting information or passing information out, she’s stopping in on hard-hit families to make sure they’re effectively coping in the flood’s aftermath. She says silver lining of the flood might be that the community is becoming better acquainted with each other, and other flood-hit towns.
Beverly was able to meet relief organizers from Richwood in the immediate aftermath of the flood to learn how people coped with the flood that hit West Virginia in June 2016.
“That was the most helpful thing anyone could have done for us.”
She hasn’t been home but for three nights in the first nine days of flood aftermath. She said she’s been sleeping on lawn chairs and running on adrenalin, but she’s looking forward to life returning to some kind of order. She doesn’t use the word “normal” to describe what life in Hundred will be.
“Richwood,” she pointed out, “is at 14 months right now, and they’re still in recovery. It’s gonna be a long time. Our families, they have very low financial means and I don’t know that they’re ever gonna recover.”
Beverly said Hundred is looking to other recovery examples the state saw last summer -- tiny houses and best-practices to get the most help possible from FEMA. But she says one of the hardest lessons learned after the flooding in June 2016 was that -- if you’re poor, you can’t expect much financial help.
“They don’t own their lands, they don’t own their trailers. When FEMA comes in they’re gonna give them maybe a couple hundred dollars for personal items lost… People think FEMA is gonna come in and be their savior. FEMA is not gonna be their savior. They don’t own anything and these people lost literally everything they own.”
Beverly reports 40 or 50 homes were lost or severely damaged. Families are homeless and without vehicles. Some are simply refusing to leave water-logged homes.
“We’re having a hard time getting some of the residents to understands all the health issued they’re gonna have as a result of being in there.”
The town’s fire department lost four emergency fire vehicles and an ambulance as well as four personal vehicles during rescue operations. The town also lost it’s garbage truck. The water system was flooded, many mains burst and the whole service area remains under a boil order. Hundred’s only grocery store did just have a new kitchen donated, but Beverly says it’s not likely to reopen for months.
Still, there’s hope for revitalization. Madeline said the flood introduced her to the more human side of her town.
“I didn’t know that so many people actually cared,” Madeline said. “A lot of the people around here -- all they care about is drugs. And so many people came out of the woodwork and helped.”