The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 6, 2014

McDowell community declares state of emergency

Heavy rains cause flooding damage

PANTHER — Counties in neighboring states declared states of emergency Thursday morning after heavy rains inflicted significant flooding damage on homes and businesses.

The McDowell County Commission declared a state of emergency at 10:38 a.m. Thursday for the greater Panther community, according to Angie Robinette, deputy director of the McDowell County Office of Emergency Services.

Robinette said homes, roads and other property in the Panther, Bull Creek and Trap Fork communities have been damaged.

“Right now there are a few residences with major damage, and there are still residents they are unable to get to due to damaged roads,” Robinette said.

Robinette said county officials are working with the state Department of Homeland Security to try to get resources in the community to help impacted families.

“There is damage to the roads,” Robinette said. “The Division of Highways is down there assessing that.”

Robinette said the communities were hit with heavy rainfall early Thursday morning. The county had been under a tornado watch earlier Wednesday evening.

Across the state line in neighboring Buchanan County, Va., County Administrator Robert Craig Horn declared a state of emergency at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, said Rick Bailey, emergency management coordinator. The board is meeting this morning to confirm this decision.

Floodwaters damaged property and roads in the Guesses Fork area along Va. 646, which goes toward the West Virginia state line near the Bull Creek area, Bailey said.

Buchanan County’s Upper Elk Creek Road area near the Kentucky state line also had flood damage, Bailey said. In both areas, the flood damaged or washed away private bridges, got into yards and some basements. No injuries were reported.

Back in McDowell County, Sheriff Martin B. West said while visiting the Panther area that no injuries had been reported. State Division of Highways crews were removing mud and debris from local roads.

Like their neighbors in Buchanan County, McDowell County residents impacted by Thursday mornings flood had to deal with heavy mud, tangled debris and damaged or missing private bridges. Along Bull Creek Road, Cameron Roberts, 17, was helping his family shovel mud off their driveway. The water started rising suddenly at about 1:30 a.m., he recalled.

“In about 10 minutes, it was at the edge of the creek, and then a foot and a half up on the house,” he said.

His father, Mike Roberts, said the flood was especially high.

“I’ve been here 25 years, and this is about the worst we’ve ever had. We’ve never had one go over the wall. This is the first time it ever came in the yard,” he said.

Down the road, Robin Kirk’s family was shoveling away mud and trying to fix a well pump. A line of mud along the pump house, which stands next to the creek, was more than two feet high. The entire yard was covered in a morass of mud and sand more than six inches thick. A Jeep and another car were ruined.

“This is a paved yard right here,” said Kirk, 39. “We lost a couple of fourwheelers, and all my grandbaby’s toys, and we lost a brand new jon boat. I think we used it three good times.”

Kirk had gone to bed thinking the creek didn’t look too high. This changed a few hours later when a neighbor called to warn her about the flood.

“She said, ‘Your car is floating in your driveway.’ I jumped up, and that’s what was going on,” Kirk stated. The creek had been high on previous occasions, but it had never flooded to such an extent.

Down the road at Tug Fork River, 34-year-old Adam Kirk was working on cleaning up his family’s property and retrieving a pickup truck from the river. He blamed the narrow creek and the design of the road near the bridge spanning the river for the flooding near his home. Kirk said his family warned state road authorities the creek was not wide enough. A drain near his driveway, which state authorities said would handle any runoff, failed to do so, Kirk said.

He did have a pleasant surprise after the water receded. Sissy, a border collie that was sleeping in a cattle trailer because she was in heat, survived. She had managed to swim to a section of the trailer that wasn’t flooded when her owner was unable to reach her.

Back in Panther, Fire Chief Billy “Rebel” Conyers of the Panther Volunteer Fire Department was resting at the Panther Community Connect Center. Conyers and his fellow firefighters had been up since 1:30 a.m. The department’s members surveyed the area, but there were no evacuations. The communities of Mud Fork, Bull Creek, Greenbrier Hollow, and Short Pole were all flooded. A natural gas leak reported at Trap Fork was shut off.

Despite the damage, the residents rallied to help one another, Conyers said.

“Everybody comes together,” he said. “That happens every time something major happens. You get a warm feeling, knowing somebody will be there to help.”

— Greg Jordan is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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