Floods Hit Southern W.Va. As The Region Still Recovers From Past Damage

Feb 12, 2020

Flooding in the past week has once again consumed much of southern West Virginia, with Gov. Jim Justice signing a state of emergency proclamation for seven counties on Friday. 

The flood washed out Chris Frazier’s basement in Yukon, McDowell County. High waters caused Frazier's neighbor Missy Hagerman to monitor the safety of her house on one side of Dry Fork River, while her family worried about flooding in their house on the other side of the river, near Bartley.

Once the water receded it left trash hanging from trees along rivers and major roadways, a marker for how high the water reached and how far it traveled during the most recent flood to strike southern West Virginia.

The Dry Fork River in Yukon, McDowell County, February 10, 2020.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Counties impacted so far include Fayette, Greenbrier, Logan, McDowell, Monroe, Raleigh and Wyoming. McDowell County officials issued a local state of emergency on Thursday before the governor’s proclamation.  

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the West Virginia National Guard announced plans to send members across the state, as the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management gears up for another long bout of heavy rain that could amount to more than an inch of water in various counties where the ground is already saturated. 

Meteorologist Mike Zwier with the National Weather Service in Charleston said Tuesday the NWS is most concerned with creeks overflowing throughout the state and mudslides. 

“You add that to places that have already had an inch or more that have fallen,” Zwier said.“A lot of areas of WV will have gotten two inches total.”

Last week, the National Weather Service reported that Welch and McDowell sustained the most recorded waterfall at 3.6 inches.

In Yukon, Wayne Crigger said he spent the weekend shoveling mud out of his driveway. 

“I got up at ten that morning and it was already in the road,” Crigger recalled of the flood. “The water from the ditch was stopped up and it was in the road, and then by about 10:30, 11, it started getting into my yard and then it veered up all the way around my house. My basement flooded, my sister’s basement flooded.”

Crigger grew up in McDowell County, and he said he does not think he is going to leave, even though the area floods pretty regularly.

“I’ve been here every since I was little, young and stuff,” he said. “It’s the worst I’ve seen it in years. I haven’t seen it this bad in years. It hasn’t really got up enough to get into yards I think, since 2000.”

The McDowell County 911 Office said on Monday towns in the southernmost portion of the county were struck the hardest, those being Bradshaw, Berwind, English and War.

DHSEM Director Michael Todorovich reportedly traveled over the weekend, assessing the damage in the seven counties. DHSEM Spokeswoman Lora Lipscomb said Tuesday morning her office was still processing Todorovich’s findings for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the governor’s office. 

Frazier said he and his neighbors had yet to hear what his county and the state were doing to help out.

“My whole basement all flooded out of here and everything,” Frazier said. “Every year’s the same thing. The deeper the water gets, the more flooded we get. And it’s hard to get anyone to do anything, really.”

Frazier said he is thinking of leaving McDowell County some time this year. He said he wishes his local government would work on building the infrastructure to deal with such constant flooding, and the river water that fills his and his neighbors basements every time.

“You know what flood water does to a house?” Frazier said. “It causes damage, it causes mold in the house. Stagnant water, especially.”

Not everyone in the seven-county area was seriously impacted by the flooding this time around, but many McDowell County residents recalled significant past floods.

Missy Hagerman lives in a painted white house with stairs out the front. She said there have been years when the water gets so high from the nearby river it covers her front steps. 

“My house is fine this time, because State Roads came and fixed the drain up there,” she said, referring to state highway workers. 

Usually, Hagerman said her husband and son end up clearing out the road storm drain. 

The most recent flood to be highly publicized was the 2016 flood that resulted in 23 deaths and more than 4,000 structures that were either destroyed or somewhat damaged.

Communities in southern West Virginia are still rebuilding homes and schools four years later, and area lawmakers are still introducing and considering legislation related to the event.

Goldie and Lacey Griffith in front of the Yukon Pentecostal Holiness Church in McDowell County, February 10, 2020. The church has served as a shelter and place for food for people affected in the region.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A recent report from West Virginia Public Broadcasting found a State Resiliency Office established by legislation in 2017 remains relatively inactive, leaving many communities unprepared as natural disasters worsen. 

Lacey Griffith is a pastor at the Yukon Pentecostal Holiness Church. He said he has been preaching in McDowell county for more than 60 years, and he can recall bad floods all the way back to 1957. 

He has also watched the coal industry dwindle and provide less jobs for people in the area. Without a lot of money coming out of or going into the area, Griffith said it is hard for people to rebuild every time, after every flood. 

“Let me tell you about McDowell County,” Griffith said. “They are struggling. These people are struggling. They’re trying to live. It’s hard to live here.”

This story is part of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Southern Coalfields Reporting Project which is supported by a grant from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.