Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia

Jun 26, 2016
Originally published on June 29, 2016 9:10 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

In West Virginia, three counties have been approved for federal disaster aid after flash floods tore through the state on Friday. Houses were swept away. Electricity went out. Gas lines broke, and, in many towns, fires followed the floods. At least 24 people died. Now as the floodwaters recede, people in the hardest-hit towns are trying to figure out what comes next. Rebecca Hersher reports from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Robin Frazier manages a McDonald's restaurant just off Route 64. The restaurant is tucked between a hill and a creek, which means when the water began to rise on Friday there was really only one place for it to go. Frazier was at home that afternoon.

ROBIN FRAZIER: And everybody kept messaging me saying, is your store OK? And I was like, what are you talking about? And then I found out it's flooded. So water was probably three feet up - up to the store. My - a bunch of my employees had to go up on the roof - had to be evacuated. Some of my employees lost family members.

HERSHER: Frazier manages about a dozen employees. They're all local, all live in and around White Sulphur Springs. She says, days after the flood she still can't believe how much was destroyed.

FRAZIER: Devastation. I mean, just knowing people lost their lives. It's hard to deal with. Everything's ruined. We're looking at weeks 'til we get power. Some people - some of my employees might not get power for three months. They don't have anything, so it's hard.

HERSHER: Up and down the road between the McDonald's and the town center, there are still ambulances and fire trucks screaming away. Although, they can't go very quickly. The asphalt is all bumpy where the water got under it. They're responding to emergency calls, but there hasn't been a rescue in over 24 hours.

Down the road next to the creek, there's a fancy and famous golf course called the Greenbrier. The PGA Tour was supposed to come here in a few weeks, but the grass is torn up and the fences are mangled. The golf tournament has been cancelled, which is big news for a lot of golf fans, but not so much for local folks. Even though the golf course is a big employer in town, a lot of people here are frustrated with the attention it's been getting.

GOLDEN VANCE: It's a tragedy. I mean, they're more worried about some people knocking a golf ball around on a golf course than the community.

HERSHER: In town, Golden Vance flips burgers.

VANCE: Did you say you wanted some cheese on it?

HERSHER: He grew up here. He set up his grill on Main street, serving food to people who lost everything. More than a dozen people died in this county. Vance knew four of them.

VANCE: And I have family that lives here and a lot of friends. I've lost - I lost several friends in this flood. And a lot of these people that lost their houses and everything - I mean, I don't know what they're going to do. I mean, we need help in this community.

HERSHER: Vance is just one of hundreds of volunteers making food and organizing shelters and handing out water. A lot of the volunteers were also affected. They have homes still full of water or they know people who were killed. Nonetheless, they have turned out to help their neighbors along with state, local police and hundreds of members of the National Guard.

But as people begin to rebuild, everyone is looking for more help from the federal government. Residents here and in two other counties are now eligible for federal emergency assistance. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Hersher in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.