Back on the front lines: National Guard on the ground in Greenbrier County during 2016 floods

1000-year-flood anniversary

CHARLESTON, WV (WVNS) — Four hundred members of the West Virginia National Guard search and rescue teams were deployed across the state to assist stranded residents during the floods of 2016. It was a mission unlike many others, and one that hit close to home.

First the watch, then warning, then the call. With in a matter of days, floodwaters rose to a dangerous level,
sending soldiers from the West Virginia National Guard to the forefront.

“So things happen pretty rapidly and then we were in the life saving mode at that point for the first 24 hours. We were just trying to find ways in,” say Maj. William Hargis, the Recruiting Retention Battalion commander for W.V.A.N.G.

In 2016, Major Hargis was the officer in the case for a C.E.R.F.P team. The team focuses on responding to mass casualty incidents. When the rain started to fall, Major Hargis and his team were sent to Clendenin. They then transferred focus to search and recovery in Greenbrier County.

“We got re-tasked to go help some of the fatality search and rescue operations for the young lady that was lost in the Greenbrier area,” said Maj. Hargis, “We were out there two or three days, pretty much walking up and down the countryside all along the river just trying to locate that young lady’s remains.”

Major Hargis said in both search and rescue, as well as helping people recover, timing was key.

“Get more logistics more resources. We were doing helicopter rescues, you name it, for that first night, so timing is key getting the right people in the right location,” said Maj. Hargis.

But their work was not done once the flooding subsided.

“That first couple days after the water receded there are still families that were displaced and needed places to go,” said Maj. Hargis.

Maj. Hargis said if there was any silver lining, it is that his former team is more than prepared for any future floods.

“So we didn’t have qualified personnel to conduct swift water rescue, so it was great for us as a learning experience cause now our state does have a qualified swift water rescue team,” said Maj. Hargis.

And one thing gives him comfort whenever a watch pops up, knowing that people in the mountain state are always there for each other, stronger together.

“West Virginians are very helpful people, people would bring blankets they would bring food from all over the state,” said Hargis.

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