Emergency Services Director looks back on 2001 floods

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PINEVILLE, WV (WVNS) — This week marks the 20th anniversary of devastating flooding that crippled communities across southern West Virginia, with some still recovering.

Flood water ravaged parts of McDowell County on Sunday, July 8, 2001. Towns like Kimball and Northfork were destroyed, with roads and bridges wiped out and homes in ruins. Governor Bob Wise declared a state of emergency in eight counties that day.

Wyoming County was also hit hard by flooding on July 8, 2001. Dean Meadows, the Wyoming County Emergency Services Director, said it started out as a normal Sunday; many people were on their way to church or already sitting in their pews as the rain fell.

“When I got to church, I called the office to see if we were having any issues with the rain. And the dispatchers were so overwhelmed, they couldn’t even tell me all that was going on,” Meadows explained.

Meadows immediately went into work to help.

“I saw water high in places I’ve never seen water before and I knew right then, there had to be issues,” Meadows said.

Meadows said they started receiving call after call from people worried about the high water, but there was little emergency services could do. The water was getting too high for even first responders to cross.

“There was nothing we really could do because we couldn’t even get folks to them. So it was really a feeling of helplessness at the time trying to get fire departments, EMS personnel, law enforcement to these people to check on them,” Meadows said.

According to Meadows, six inches of rain fell in a three-hour period. The Guyandotte River, which flows through Wyoming County, peaked at 18 feet that Sunday. The water destroyed homes and businesses. Roads were washed away or blocked by debris. One person died.

“We saw campers and RV’s trapped on bridges, they were just stuck on the bridge, bridges that were entrances to people’s roadways. Not to mention limbs and the trees and such,” Meadows said.

The clean up process was long. FEMA came in to help, along with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Red Cross. Meadows said about one fifth of the county was impacted by the flooding in some way. More than 300 homes were totally destroyed and 1,200 were substantially damaged. Through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, more than 130 homes were bought out to help cut down on future flood damage.

“Get these people moved out of the floodplain and now that’s all open space, so now when the water comes up, it spreads out over open space and goes back down and does not flood homes,” Meadows explained.

Although it took years to recover from the floods of 2001, Meadows said it showed just how strong the people of Wyoming County are when everybody comes together.

“The resiliency of the people of Wyoming County, no doubt about it. The were definitely willing to work together to get our county back,” Meadows said.

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