Brenton residents look back at 2001 flood

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BRENTON, WV (WVNS) — The community of Brenton in Wyoming County was hit hard as the Guyandotte River rose higher and higher on Sunday, July 8, 2021.

Greg Mitchell lived in Brenton his whole life. He grew up along the Guyandotte River and was no stranger to flooding, but on July 8th, 2001, the river reached a level that even he could have never imagined.

“I’ve lived on this river my whole life. But the way it came up and as fast as it came up in 30 minutes, I knew we were in trouble,” Mitchell said.

Water consumed Mitchell’s house. He tried to move things, but the river just kept rising. By 8 o’clock that night, most of what he owned was gone.

“Glad everybody was ok. Family was alright, that’s all that matters. But still, at the time, it was almost 20 years of everything I worked for,” Mitchell explained.

Down the road, Lee Fischer was also dealing with high water. He was the pastor of the Brenton Church of God, and he received a phone call that morning telling him to stop his service and send everyone home.

“They said evacuate your church, send the people home, it’s flooding. And I said flooding? I said you can wade in the river down here. And they said it’s flooding, there’s a 22ft wall of water coming down that river,” Fischer said.

Fischer got everyone out as the water rose. He eventually had to be taken to higher ground in a boat. The flood waters filled his church, costing more than $100,000 in damage.

“When this happened, it was square one. We were almost out of debt, and then we had to go borrow 135,000 dollars,” Fischer said.

Fischer was forced to tear down part of his church, and with the help of volunteers and members of his congregation, he rebuilt.

“They looked at me one day and said, we had all that mess in that basement, it was terrible, and they said what are we going to do. And I said we’re going to put on rubber gloves and boots, and start shoveling,” Fischer explained.

Mitchell also had to start over. He and his family waited several years, living in a trailer provided by FEMA, before they were finally in a new home.

“My dad grew up here, I grew up 9/10ths of a mile up the road. This has always been home, even if I didn’t have one, this has always been home,” Mitchell said.

Looking back on that Sunday 20 years later, the memories are still fresh.

“After all these years, every time there are hard rains, everyone is coming down to look at the river, including me. I know when it’s dangerous, I know when it’s too high,” Fischer said.

While they can never get back the things they lost that day, they know it could have been much worse.

“If it happened 12 hours sooner, or 12 hours later, a lot of people would’ve died in this county. It just so happened it was a beautiful day for a flood,” Mitchell said.

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