Residents take a look at floodwaters flowing over a roadway in Fireco near Coal City Saturday in Raleigh County.

Thick, dark clouds rolled over Rhodell on Saturday afternoon, and residents felt a few rain drops.

The same eerie, bone-chilling thought seemed to cross every resident’s mind: “Oh, no. Not again.”

“Pray for no rain,” Rhodell volunteer fire Capt. Andrea Lilly said.

“Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord,” resident Geraldine Lash said. “Ask the Lord to take care of us. We don’t ever know what is going to happen.”

Gov. Joe Manchin and local officials declared a state of emergency in Raleigh County Saturday after flooding battered the town of Rhodell and other areas in the southern end of the county. While most flood damage was limited to yards and basements, Rhodell residents were left without water service and feared more rain would compound their misery.

Around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Rhodell firefighters were called to handle flooding, Lilly said. Friday night’s constant heavy rain had everyone fearing the worst, but the flooding seemed to happen all at once and before daybreak. Most people were still asleep and totally unaware of what was happening.

“It wasn’t bad, but within 30 minutes — BOOM!” Chief Pat Cox said.

Lilly said one family from Amigo and two others from Mead left their homes and stayed at The Open Door Church in Rhodell. The Red Cross temporarily stationed volunteers there. Firefighters, meanwhile, drove through the streets with sirens on and knocked on several residents’ doors. All of Rhodell, she said, is in a flood zone.

Several basements and some yards flooded, and the Rhodell fire station had 6 inches of water on the floor Saturday morning, Lilly said. She noted, though, that Amigo residents sustained even worse damage, with water going inside some people’s homes. Cox said some roads there were impassable.

“If it weren’t for our four-wheeler, I don’t know what we’d have done.”

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Once the chaotic morning passed, most floodwaters began to recede. Stone Coal Creek, a Guyandotte River tributary, remained high, though. Rhodell residents had another major challenge — no drinking water.

Marty Agee, deputy director of the Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center, said water could be off in Rhodell for a week to a week-and-a-half. At the town’s water treatment facility, contaminated floodwaters had reached the lines. However, the main tank and pumps were unaffected.

The Sophia Area Volunteer Fire Department brought in a “dunk tank” with water residents could use for household activities once it was boiled, Agee said. The EOC was also bringing drinking water from Beckley.

Red Cross volunteers, activated at 4 a.m., fed more than 100 people throughout the day Saturday, Agee noted. That shelter was closed by Saturday evening. Newly trained volunteers from the county’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) were also dispatched. Six or seven Rhodell residents helped their fellow citizens.

“This is a very strong community that pulls together to do what has to be done,” Agee said. “...They have a lot of dedicated firefighters. One firefighter evacuated his four children himself, then came back to protect the rest of the community. I don’t think any of them have rested.”

More rain is in the National Weather Service forecast through Monday night. Agee urged residents to keep an eye on the weather because the ground is heavily saturated and to heed any evacuation orders — even painful ones.

“A lot of people don’t like to leave behind their pets or personal belongings,” she said. “I believe one of the hardest things to do is leave your pet behind, but you need to watch for your own personal safety.”

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Meanwhile, Rhodell residents cleaned up and kept an eye to the sky as Stone Coal Creek remained swollen.

Stan Fletcher awoke at 8 a.m. Saturday to find a practical lake in his yard along Coal City Road. Water was 4 to 6 inches deep and reaching his fence, but the floodwaters did not reach his house or car. He and neighbors were “flooded in” with both ends of Coal City Road blocked. A neighbor in a house across the street and alongside Stone Coal Creek had 4 feet of water in his basement.

“This doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “We’ve had two major floods in the last nine years. I was afraid this would be equal.”

Fletcher said his home still had electrical power, but he had no water. He drained whatever was left in his pipes into buckets.

Geraldine Lash and her husband Thomas displayed their flooded backyard in the afternoon. During every heavy rain, water runs from the railroad tracks on a higher embankment and into their yard. They must hook up a pump to move the water toward the roadway. Otherwise, the water will seep below their house and further weaken its foundation.

The Lashes also noted the heavily saturated ground above their septic tank and the smell coming from it.

Besides having no water, the Lashes said they had no phone service, either.

“We have to do this every time there’s a big rain,” Thomas Lash said. “We’ve been pumping for the last four days.”

“We are tired of it,” Geraldine Lash said. “...We just want someone to help us. This is messing up our yards.”

Residents saw the gathering storm clouds and literally prayed for the best.

“Thank God that it hasn’t rained hard again,” Fletcher said. “I heard we were supposed to get a thunderstorm at 1 (p.m.), but I guess, maybe, it missed us.

“I hope it doesn’t rain.”

— E-mail: apridemore@register-herald.com

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