Smithers, WV — (WVNS)–Robert Vanmeter’s home in Smithers flooded in 2001, taking away his tools and furniture.
On Monday, August 15, 2022, a flash flood caused nearly identical damage to his home, which is nestled in the Valley area of Fayette County.
“I’d say there’s $30,000 worth of tools in that garage, there, and there’s probably $25,000, $30,000 dollars worth of stuff, stuff that you can’t replace,” said Vanmeter, calculating damages. “And to have it cleaned up, yeah. Huh.”
Vanmeter, 76, said he’s experienced several floods.
But in 2022, things are different than they were in 2001. The world is digital, connected by cell towers and WiFi signals. It’s not the face-to-face connections that Vanmeter suggested he prefers.
Gov. Jim Justice has requested that flood victim complete an online survey and upload photos of flood damage to a state website.
The governor will use the the survey results to determine if West Virginia will request a presidential emergency declaration, which would make individual flood victims eligible to apply for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Lora Lipscomb, public information officer for the West Virginia Emergency Management Division, said Wednesday, August 17, 2022, that flood victims may also report their damages to their local emergency management divisions.
In addition, she said, homeowners and renters should document their damages and keep receipts and file insurance claims as soon as possible.
The process raises the question of whether senior flood victims will need in-person help to file insurance claims and to complete the online survey at the Governor’s Office.
Multiple studies show seniors are less likely to use technology for day-to-day tasks.
When the flood waters came through Smithers early Monday, the Vanmeter household and their next-door-neighbors, the Johnson family, had different experiences, they reported.
Patrick Johnson said his cell phone alerted him to be aware of danger.
“It was probably about three in the morning,” Johnson reported. “My phone went off with an alert, and I got up and looked out the window.
“I pretty much saw a river in the road,” he recalled on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, as he cleaned his property from flood debris. ” I walked around to the front ,and pretty much everybody’s yard was flooded.”
The Vanmeters said they were disappointed that nobody knocked on their door to let them know the hollow was flooding.
Instead, their dog started to bark. When Vanmeter’s daughter went to investigate, she said she saw water coming into the house.
Vanmeter said on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, he would like to file a flood insurance claim, through FEMA and his private insurer, but he is not sure how to do it.
His hope is that state officials or volunteers will help file a paper claim.
“If they would show up today, and let’s get this paperwork over with, so I can start replacing stuff that I can replace,” he mused. “But there’s lots of stuff that you’ll never replace.”
State workers are cleaning the roads, and emergency workers are delivering bottled water. A help center has been established at a local school.
However, Vanmeter’s comments suggest senior flood victims may require more face-to-face support from local emergency management agencies, volunteers and private insurers, to file insurance claims and for assessment purposes.