Flood Brings Unity, Struggles
The crowd size was modest, but the spirit of community and hope was unbeatable Thursday evening at the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce’s flood relief fundraiser. The event was held at Wetzel County’s Mollohan Center and was also sponsored by the Wetzel County Commission. The event featured a 50/50 drawing, a silent auction, refreshments, and guest speakers – including dignitaries – who gave their thoughts on the July 28-29 flooding. So far, $11,902.50 was raised from the benefit.
Chipper Goff, a Hundred councilman and fixture for the community since the flood, said he didn’t know he was a flood victim until seven hours after the fact.
Goff, a volunteer fireman, was first paged out around midnight on Friday night.
The floodwater, “went high, and it went quick,” Goff said.
Goff and fellow firefighters first responded to a trailer park in Hundred, to rescue trapped residents. The crew made their way south – to the vicinity of the town’s Dollar General.
He was then dispatched to rescue his own family. However, the calls for help kept coming. Goff did not make it to his family.
Through the calls and the responses, the town’s brand new fire truck was damaged.
“It broke my heart,” Goff said of the truck.
He had then gone to the fire department to retrieve his truck in order to somehow tow the flood-damaged fire truck. Yet, through all the commotion, by the time Goff got to the fire truck “it was too late.”
“I then got toned out for a structure fire,” Goff said. “I went through a pond of water in my truck.” Thankfully there was no fire, yet Goff described a dangerous task – how he plunged through water in a resident’s basement to shut off their electrical breakers.
“Our fire company is small. We couldn’t get help, or mutual aid,” Goff noted of the struggle that night.
“It took three hours to get to Littleton.” Yet, the firefighters could not stay and help for long due to a quickly deteriorating situation.
“We spent about 15 minutes there. Roads were washing out. Our trucks were too heavy,” Goff said.
“As we drove away, I thought, ‘These people probably hate us.'”
The calls were constant for seven hours though. Goff described the scenarios – mobile homes about to wash away, elderly folks trapped in their homes.
“I prayed, ‘Please don’t let anyone die tonight,'” Goff said.
After seven hours of response and rescue Goff made it home.
He said the first thing that brought him to tears was seeing the new fire truck, destroyed and with a pole through the windshield.
Yet this moment of despair was overwhelmed by relief when he spotted his wife, running to him to give him a hug.
Two-thirds of Goff’s home was flooded. He lost three vehicles.
Goff had just been re-elected to the town’s council on July 1. He said he had previously pledged to not stay with the position unless the council made a difference in the next two years.
Then the flood happened.
Goff hasn’t been back to work since the flood. He said his heart isn’t in his work. His heart is with Hundred.
Immediately after the flood, volunteers began their work out of Hundred High School. HHS staff, including those not personally affected by the flood, slept overnight in the school which was accessible to those who needed help.
The volunteers accomplished incredible acts, such as preparing 800 meals a day. Forty-six days after the flood, their helpful spirit has not subsided. Meals are still being served daily at the Methodist church.
“In the next two years, our town will look different,” Goff said, promising a change for the better.
“I’m not afraid to make calls, ask people for help, and talk to people. This whole ordeal makes me want to help people; it makes me want to reach out and help.”
Yet, “this whole ordeal opened my eyes,” the councilman said. “I saw people who didn’t like each other, serving meals together.”
Yet all of this beautiful assistance hasn’t been without some difficulties. Goff and Town Recorder Sherry Hayes took the bulk of the coordination on their shoulders.
But he explained that Hayes, who took on the role of flood plain manager, holds two jobs including getting her town hall that was flood ravaged put back together. Goff explained that this was too much for Hayes; therefore, he has taken on the role.
“We weren’t educated,” Goff said of proper procedures. Therefore, he now has the tough task of reaching out to residents, to inform them of protocol to follow, such as applying for permits to make repairs to their homes.
“We are trying to learn and trying to reach out,” Goff said.
“We are Wetzel County strong,” he said of his community. “The only way we will get through this, is together.”
A Volunteer Resource Center is currently located at Hundred. Goff said this center is accessible to all who were affected by the flood. Likewise, the Hundred/Littleton Disaster Relief group is also in place for all flood affected Wetzel Countians. He thanked the chamber for hosting the flood relief event and he also expressed gratitude to the county commission, along with Delegate Dave Pethtel for taking interest in the Hundred community.
“The county commission has helped us out a bunch,” he said, adding that Pethtel “has done so much.”
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said.
Currently there are 34 families, affected by the flood, with no home. The town is trying to work with state agencies and FEMA, as well as groups who have committed to helping the town rebuild.
Goff stressed the need of skilled laborers to donate time.
Johanna Lemasters, president of Hundred VFD, also serves on town council, “working hard to make the town better than it was.”
Hundred VFD lost three fire trucks in the flood; the town is currently working to repair its favorite pumper, according to Lemasters. She said that besides Goff, six other firefighters lost their trucks in the flood. The firefighters did not realize this until they came back from responding to “heartbreaking situations.”
Lemasters noted one specific situation that affected her personally. She said one firefighter was dealing with water pouring into his home. At the same time, Lemasters’ 93-year-old father, who suffers from dementia, had water pouring into his own home.
Before responding to his own home, the firefighter assisted Lemasters’ father, lifting the man and helping him to evacuate his home.
Lemasters also recalled some of the emergency calls, from the night of the floods. Calls such as “Please come. My elderly mother is in a wheelchair,” or “A resident is on top of his trailer,” or “Please help my wife and kids.”
In the days after the flood, Lemasters stood in her driveway, debating on where to begin with the flood cleanup process. She said some individuals approached her; she asked the group how she could help them. They responded that they were there to help her. She said the individuals, from a volunteer Baptist group, helped with electrical installation.
“No one knows how much that means to me,” she said.
“I really want to thank everyone who has helped. It’s heartbreaking to see how the flood has affected everyone.”
During his remarks to guests, Delegate Dave Pethtel praised the work of Goff, Eric Yost, and Lemasters. He said the volunteers have “gone above and beyond the call of duty.” He also expressed gratitude to the county commission, stating, “I don’t know what we would have done without them and the Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management.”
Pethtel said the community has appreciated the donations, and further noted that “it will take a while to recover.”
Commission President Larry Lemon thanked the chamber for taking on Thursday’s event. He said the commission is trying to do its part to help with the flood relief, noting that the commission took action as soon as it had heard of the flooding, stepping in immediately.
“Our hearts are with you,” Lemon said of the citizens affected by the floods.
Tina Rush, a resident of the Shortline area, gave her recollection of the events of July 29. She said she could not make her commute to work that day, because of several flooded areas on North Fork Road. Floodwaters had crossed pastures and roads. She recalled the devastation to homes located along the other side of the creek and how a pipe bridge was completely washed out.
“About 20 families lost everything,” Rush said of the Shortline area.
Rush, who works for Mark West, praised the efforts of her employer – along with other local companies. She said Mark West had delivered three tractor trailer loads of water to the Pine Grove area; Mark West also had brought a grill to the community one day and cooked food for residents and volunteers in hopes of “giving people a smile.”
“We hear bad news,” Rush said of today’s society. Yet, Rush noted, she had a front row seat to flood relief efforts. Many acts of kindness, she recollected, “touched my heart.” Rush recalled the small community of Bruceton Mills, which contributed a truck and tractor trailer to aid in flood relief efforts.
Rush also remained in contact with Beth Sigley, of Hundred, and Chris Shreve, of Smithfield, fellow Wetzel County communities affected by the flooding. Rush said the trio was able to “coordinate efforts.”
A common area misconception, according to Rush, is that Mark West and Dominion are rival companies. Yet, in the aftermath of the flooding, Rush was approached by a boss from Dominion, asking what his company could do to help the community. The Dominion representative ended up offering the use of a dumpster at the company’s Hastings site, after Rush had remarked that the community was in need of a place to dispose of trash. As for the Shortline area, Rush said several basements in Pine Grove are completely ruined, along with the basement of a local church, which held clothing giveaways.
Yet, the giving spirit remains strong, even for those affected by the July 28-29 raging waters.
Rush noted that she had contacted some of her area’s businesses, asking them if they would like to participate in the chamber flood relief event. Some business owners declined, noting they only had a few hundred dollars’ worth of loss and the need was greater for others.
The Short Line area is in need of skilled manpower though. “Labor needs done; there is a need for man hours. Several homes need that,” Rush said. She expressed gratitude, again, for companies such as Mark West and Dominion. She also noted civic organizations, Faith Fellowship Church, the Busy Bees 4-H group, Gabriel Project, and the Shortline Lions Club for assistance, along with those who organized tetanus shots and other flood relief efforts.
Kyla Aracich is the new assistant manager of Hundred’s Belko Foods, which lost a value of $200,000 as a result of the flood.
According to Aracich, Belko’s future was uncertain in the days after the flood. However, Aracich and her fellow employees did not want to give up.
“We gave it a go,” she said.
Aracich expressed appreciation for members of the Department of Corrections. Within two days the store was cleaned out, the mud removed.
For the past 35 days, Belko’s employees have forgone volunteer help, wanting the volunteers to instead help residents in their homes.
In the meantime, Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration has offered assistance to the grocery store, free of charge. Paint was donated to the store; Aracich and fellow employees have worked on that endeavor.
It is estimated that the store could reopen in mid-October.
Joy Kuhn spoke on behalf of her daughter, Heather Riley, who owns Heather’s Country Florist. Kuhn read a letter, written by Riley.
Heather said that she has lived in Wetzel County all her life. She said her shop is small, but she loves crafting and flowers.
“It’s no secret that out here, Hundred doesn’t have much,” Heather said. Yet, after the flood, the town “looked like a war zone.”
Heather was first affected by flooding the week prior to the July 28-29 floods. She said run-off water had filled her shop; she had “nothing left.”
Besides the loss at her business, Heather said her home life is “different.”
“My house is without floors in two rooms”
Since then, Heather and her family decided to downsize, moving across the street.
Despite the significant affect from the flooding, Heather said that, “at the end of the day, what matters most, is that we didn’t lose anyone.”
The hopeful spirit has been evident to all who have witnessed the flood recovery. Sharon Thomas, executive director for the chamber, said in the days following the flood the chamber traveled to Hundred to meet with some of the business owners.
Thomas remarked on how business owners displayed “hope on their faces.”
No business had stated that they wouldn’t reopen. No business owner considered giving up.
The people realized that “if businesses close, we lose our future,” Thomas said.
John Mensore sang seven songs Thursday night. Yet, prior to singing, he explained his own connection to the Hundred/Littleton communities. Mensore said his grandfather grew up in the community and then peddled goods for several years, between New Martinsville and Hundred. Mensore’s grandfather spent five years peddling goods prior to bringing his wife and daughter to America.
“I’ve been in my business for 39 years,” Mensore said. “I have friends from all over.”
Mensore said several representative from local companies have come to his business to pick up water to deliver to the flood-affected communities. yet, “I never realized until tonight how horrible the flood was,” Mensore said.
“God Bless all you people,” Mensore said.