WSAZ Investigates | Flooded then Forgotten Part 2

Published: Nov. 10, 2016 at 8:05 PM EST
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UPDATE 11/17/16 @ 7:30 p.m.

CLAY COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A week after a WSAZ investigation showed families still living in dire circumstances in Clay County, more than four months after historic flooding, some of those families are finding help. Still, volunteers are learning of new challenges every day.

Thursday morning, volunteers discovered a couple of flood victims still living in a tent.

Tabitha Adkins is a mom of four, whose family sits comfortably in the middle class in Clay County, an area where approximately a quarter of the residents live in poverty. Her home sits on a mountain, but the bottom floor was flooded June 23, filled with water that rushed off the mountainside.

"The water, it did not come through any doors or windows. It came straight through the walls," says Adkins.

She says money will be tight this winter and is concerned that if and when her husband is laid off, there will not be enough money to pay the bills. He does pipeline work and is typically laid off for a few months in the winter.

"We have to save money throughout the year in order to pay bills during the winter time. And when the flood hit, we went through about half of what was in there, on top of what FEMA gave us," she says.

As for the allegations of corruption and political bullying in Clay County that WSAZ introduced in part one of the series, State Police confirmed that there is an open investigation into several complaints that have come out of flood recovery efforts there.

They cannot comment on the details of the investigation, but say the prosecutor's office will have the final say in whether charges are criminal or civil.

Two families WSAZ introduced last week are both finding help due to our story.

Strangers stepped up to give wood and a wood burning stove for John McLaughlin, who moved from Clay to Clendenin. Volunteers with the Greater Kanawha Long Term Recovery Committee, who made contact with McLaughlin prior to our story airing, have made several big improvements to McLaughlin's flooded home. It is now livable and almost safe for the cold winter months. Dozens of volunteers have been working to complete the flooring, sheet rock, insulation and electric. To continue their work, the volunteer organization is looking for volunteers with flooring experience.

While in Clay County, the Coulters still struggle to find that kind of man power to rebuild their home from scratch. They have received some furniture and building supplies within the last week, from the Greater Clay Long Term Recovery Committee, but say they are still desperate for volunteers to help rebuild from the ground up.

The Greater Clay Long Distance Flood Recovery Committee says they are in need of licensed installers to help install HVAC systems to keep flood victims warm this winter. The licensed installers can be paid, but they also accept volunteer work. The group says they are also in need of kerosene and as many as 25 kerosene heaters.

Adkins admits that her family needs help to repair damage to her home caused by the flooding. An inspector told her if there is a heavy rain, her home will likely flood again until they make repairs to the outside walls that are estimated to cost more than 10,000 dollars.

Still, she says she does not like asking for or accepting charity help when so many others in the county are far worse off. "I feel guilty for it," she says.

Her children are all dealing with the trauma of the floods in different ways, but her youngest son is having the toughest time. "Aidan asks every time it rains, he asks if it's gonna flood, and I have to try to comfort him, but he can see the anxiety in my eyes too," she admits.

With fear of what the winter months will bring, both for her family and others across the county, all she can do is hope that more help comes as the temperatures continue to fall.

Keep clicking WSAZ for the latest on this story.

UPDATE 11/11/16 @ 8 p.m.

CLAY COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The chief flood recovery officer in West Virginia is responding to our WSAZ Investigation: "Flooded and Forgotten."

In a report Thursday WSAZ introduced you to some of the families, who are among hundreds in Clay County victimized by the flooding in June, still looking for help.

More than four months after the floods, volunteers on the ground say there are still more than 100 people living in dire conditions.

They told WSAZ they are struggling to get help.

West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to oversee the statewide recovery effort.

Hoyer admits the progress in Clay County has been slower than it should have been compared to the other counties devastated by flooding.

"I think Clay is much more challenging than our other counties, because the damage was spread out across a fairly wide area, whereas if you're talking about White Sulphur, Rainelle, if you're talking about Richwood and Nicholas County. Clay already had tremendous difficulties before this event hit."

But he told WSAZ that he believes they are on the right track, working to get people into safe, warm housing before the winter sets in.

"We were moving in the right direction but not at the speed with which we could have been moving the county forward," Hoyer said, "I think our focus right now is on making sure that we have the support that we need through the volunteer organizations going into winter and making sure the citizens are OK through the winter."

Meanwhile, West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD) is the state chapter of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster organization that works to streamline volunteers and resources to ensure no duplication. The organization is a non-profit organization that works with state agencies.

WV VOAD works with local case managers who work directly with affected families. Using a system called the Incident Command System, the group says they are able to ensure "an effective and fair way to meet the most-pressing needs of the people in the flooded communities."

WV VOAD leaders say that efforts continues to be directed toward assisting the victims and the families in all counties affected by the unprecedented June 2016 flooding.

General Hoyer says that flood victims in Clay County that still need assistance should call 304-561-6317 for help.

ORIGINAL STORY 11/10/16 @ 8:05 p.m.

CLAY COUNTY, W.Va (WSAZ) -- More than four months since flood waters claimed lives and devastated whole communities across the state of West Virginia, there are still families living in tents and structures that are not suitable for cold weather.

In Clay County, the resources are sparse while the need is still great.

John McLaughlin watched the flood waters take his trailer in Clay County.

When the flood waters kept rising, he and his fiance Garnet Davis got out, escaping by climbing up a mountain behind the home.

"Just looked over my shoulder, and I said that was the porch cracked and I watched that trailer pick up like that," he says.

His home was floating down the creek, a total loss.

Since, assistance from FEMA helped him purchase a home in Clendenin. The house was also flooded during the June flooding disaster, but McLaughlin says he got a good deal, and it is all he can afford.

The house is not weatherized or safe for him to live in at this point, but hes says he may not have a choice as the weather gets colder.

The Greater Kanawha Long Term Recovery set him up with a volunteer group who was in town last week. They helped him re-floor most of the house.

Still, walls are missing. There is no insulation, electric or any heat source.

McLaughlin still insists the house is warmer at night than the camper he is currently sleeping in.

"It's like an icecube in that thing," he says.

McLaughlin's health is also a concern. He had bypass heart surgery in May, one month before the floods hit. Injuries he sustained during the floods and the toll of demanding physical labor are exacerbating his daily pain and diminishing his health.

Throughout the interview, he frequently rubbed over his chest up to his neck.

He reluctantly admitted, he is in constant pain. "Feel down some and stay in pain 24/7. I don't let nobody know," he says.

West Virginia Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley) who represents District 16 has been active in flood recovery efforts. As a pastor, he was asked to help set up eight long term recovery committees that aid the twelve counties impacted by the June flooding.

Senator Unger says people and politics are getting in the way of help for flood victims in Clay County.

"There's been political bullying. There's been resources withheld. There's been threats that with all that as they play their game of thrones of power, winters coming and we have severe winters," he says.

Senator Unger is concerned some flood victims will freeze to death this winter or will fall victim to fire while trying to heat structures improperly.

"If they're gonna fight with each other and have a war, the only casualties they're going to take are the people of Clay," says Unger. "If there are deaths, that's an individual that could have been saved, but people were too busy fighting with each other."

Unger has been heavily involved with flood relief across the state. He says the lack of progress in Clay County does not make sense.

"We have people still living in tents or inadequate facilities, families that are in structures that are not ready for winter," he says. While there are sporadic, similar cases in other counties like Kanawha, the need in Clay seems to be more widespread, and there is not as much help available.

As winter approaches, "we have another tragedy coming," Unger warns.

Lack of resources is a problem throughout several communities in the rural Clay County. Before the floods, a quarter of the residents were living in poverty, according to census data.

Benjamin Coulter and his wife Brittni Coulter had a third generation home that was passed down from Benjamin's parents. It was destroyed by the floods. Now, he says the help came initially and disappeared just as quickly.

"I mean you took and looked around and there was hundreds of volunteers," he says. But lately, "I mean I'm begging for help."

The couple and their nine month old baby are struggling to find a new normal. They have spent months trying to clean out their old home, while also finding property for a new one.

"You know, me, my wife and my son, we're not back to normal," says Coulter. "Mother nature has been throwing us a curve ball because we know it's going to get cold."

FEMA helped ease the burden but not enough. They do not have the money or the man power to rebuild right now.

Benjamin, Brittni and nine month old baby will stay with in-laws for the winter and until they can build a new home. They are hoping to to be built up and moved in within the next two years but know that without help, it will be difficult.

For now, McLaughlin is forced to make a decision to sleep in his camper without heat in Clay or home in Clendenin without electric, insulation or heat.

He works almost every day to prepare the house for winter weather, but he is far from where he needs to be.

Due to several health problems, he should not be doing difficult physical labor.

Other than a volunteer group the Greater Kanawha Flood Recovery Committee connected him with, McLaughin is only getting help rebuilding from one of his neighbors, as he is available.

Senator Unger alleges their is political bullying within Clay County and WV VOAD. He has requested a full investigation into their practices and where they are designating resources and funds for flood relief.

West Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources confirms that they are currently investigating WV VOAD at Senator Unger's request. DHHR says they are "in the process of gathering information regarding the WV VOAD federal sub-recipient grant agreement."

The West Virginia Attorney General's office says they cannot comment on if they have any open cases related to flood relief.

If you would like to help flood victims in Clay County, contact the Greater Clay Long Term Recovery Committee. The phone number is 304-587-4700.

Flood victims can also contact General Hoyer at his office. The number you need to call is (304) 561-6317.