Flood recovery continues five years later

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 7:16 PM EDT
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CLENDENIN, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Wednesday marks five years since devastating flooding rocked parts of West Virginia, and the recovery effort is still ongoing.

The June 2016 flood destroyed homes, schools and businesses, and claimed 23 lives. The hardest-hit areas included Kanawha, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers and Greenbrier counties.

People in Clendenin are still rebuilding with the help of state and federal programs. Houses and businesses remain closed and boarded up, while other homes are in the process of being raised up and out of the floodplain.

Volunteer groups from across the state and the country have played a key role in the recovery effort. They have done everything from handing out water and food immediately after the flood to repairing houses for people to move back to.

“Mud, mud, mud, you couldn’t even stand up in the house,” flood victim Rosie Workman said. “It was like silt from the river. Everything that that water touched, I don’t care if it was just a drop, it left mud everywhere. Most things were ruined.”

Workman had to gut her entire house with the help of church groups from St. Albans. Her family was forced up into the attic and roof of her house before being rescued on a raft, as water filled the house below on the warm June evening.

“My house was built in 1913 and had never had water in it,” Workman said about the 1-in-1,000 flood. “Hopefully, it won’t happen again in my lifetime.”

Members of the Manheim Brothers in Christ, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, have spent the past week helping the community to ensure everyone is able to rebuild and get back to a normal life.

The group of 48 church members have been repairing buildings, painting homes and maintaining the riverbank. They’re also repairing a church building that was damaged in the flood to create a place for future volunteer groups to stay when the come to help the area.

“There’s minor repairs, there’s construction work, there’s painting, there’s a lot of different things,” youth pastor Corby Burkholder said. “Floods create a lot of damage and it takes years to repair, so we are going back. “(Clendenin United Methodist Church) has identified locations that we can go in and help the community as they are still recovering from the flood.”

Burkholder said the group has really liked working in the Clendenin community and has gotten to know the resilient people who insisted on rebuilding and staying in town. Last weekend’s Clendenin Homecoming Festival allowed them to serve the community and mark how far they have come since the flood.

“We’re partnering with them,” Burkholder said “They are the ones that are staying when we leave and are going to be continuing the work, so we want to come alongside of them and partner with them. Really, when we are here, we are a part of their church and we are working with them to minister their community.”

While many destroyed buildings are still standing, including the old Clendenin Elementary School, many businesses have reopened to take advantage of the growing tourism economy with the Elk River Trail.

The same river that people now fill with kayaks every weekend was filled with trees, trailers and even a full garage during the flood, Tony Matics said. His wife, Anne, described the rush of water coming down the street as “Niagara Falls.” It filled the basement of their new house and pushed their cars from the driveway across the yard.

“The town is clean, and it’s kind of surreal today,” Anne said. “It’s a beautiful day, to think that it’s been five years ago.”

“It was sort of this way until the rain hit,” Tony continued. “Then, we went underwater after the rain hit.”

Tony was at his business, Matics Funeral Home, separated by the raging river from Anne and their son. He ran uphill as the funeral home was surrounded by water, and eventually ensured everyone made it to safety. Once the water receded, the entire building was severely damaged from being underwater, but he was committed to rebuilding in the community where he has spend his entire life.

“It’s new blood,” Matics said about the rebuilt community. “People from other parts of the country moving in, and property is reasonable here. Things are nice here. It’s a real slow, small community where most people know everybody except for the newcomers, but people always go and say ‘howdy’.”

Mayor Kay Summers said Clendenin will only continue to grow as people are attracted to the area to send their children to the new Herbert Hoover High School and Clendenin Elementary School. While the town still has a lot of work to repair from the flood, they are committed to build back better than ever before.

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