Yesterday we were moving a table, looking for a place to put the new gas heater, when a stack of books toppled. But out of the pile of books on the floor slipped this one:
It was a book about the worst flood in the history of West Virginia, a devastating deluge of water that wiped out entire communities, homes, roads, bridges, and farms. I sat right down to read the book once again, and to once again try to grasp the incredible destruction that occurred 25 years ago on this date.
The mountains are prone to flooding because of their very geography. A heavy storm will send water coursing down the mountains' sides into streams, creeks and rivers. The waterways can't carry off the volume of water quickly enough in some cases and overflow their banks. It's not a good idea to build your home on a riverbank in a mountain state like this one, but in the 1985 flood homes far back from the waterways were flooded because the volume of water was so immense.
My friends Matthew and Jason Burns have both written about the flood. They were young boys at the time and lived in the area devastated. Their families scrambled to get home and to survive. Their aunt was reported to have drowned, but disproved that fact by turning up very much alive. Matthew's blog posts and Jason's article in the WV Storytelling Guild's newsletter both reflect the taut, tense hours and days during the flood and after the water receded. As Jason says, his life is measured from this point--events before the flood, and events after.
To drive through Pendleton, Preston, Tucker, Grant, and Hardy counties today, you might not notice the flood's effect. What you can't see is what was--the hundreds of missing homes and businesses, the communities that never recovered, the 47 people whose lives were lost. There are still places where the rocks piled along the rivers suggest the memory of the flood.
But talk to anyone who lived there when the waters raged and you will see the strongest impact of the night the waters ran rampant. It is in their eyes.