Skip Navigation

The Flood of 2016

It rained off and on for days. Then, on, a massive storm swept across central West Virginia and moved eastward. It was the second destructive derecho to slam through the Mountain State in four years. The rain totals from June 23-24 were staggering—in some places, between 8 and 10 inches of rain in less than eight hours.

In Greenbrier County, more than nine inches of rain inundated Maxwelltown and White Sulphur Springs, and Rainelle received 7.5 inches. Other hard-hit communities included Clendenin and Elkview in Kanawha County; Clay, Procius, and Bomont in Clay County; Richwood in Nicholas County; Belva and Dixie, which are split between Nicholas and Fayette counties; Ronceverte and Rupert in Greenbrier County; Alderson in Greenbrier and Monroe counties; Hinton in Summers County; and Webster Springs and Cowen in Webster County. The full list of devastated towns is too lengthy to print. We simply list a few of them here just to convey how the widespread scope of the destruction.

“I saw flood waters in places I’ve never seen it” is now a common refrain. More than 500 people were forced to spend the night at a shopping plaza at Elkview when a raging creek cut off the access road. Water poured into The Greenbrier resort, which was used for a while after the flood as a homeless shelter.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared disaster areas in 80 percent of the state’s counties, and President Barack Obama ultimately designated 12 counties as federal disaster areas: Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Roane, Summers, and Webster.

Twenty-three West Virginians lost their lives, making it the fourth deadliest flood since West Virginia became a state—behind the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood (125 deaths), 1985 floods (47 deaths), and 1870 Harpers Ferry flood (42 deaths). Two flood victims were young children: Edward McMillion, 4, of Ravenswood, and Emanuel Williams, 8, of Wheeling. The body of 14-year-old Mykala Phillips of White Sulphur Springs has still not been found. Nataysha Nicely, 33, of White Sulphur Springs, lost her life along with her 68-year-old father, Hershel, and son Dakota Stone, age 16. And the oldest to perish, Denver Barker, 93, had been wounded on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion and toiled 43 years as an underground coal miner, but he drowned inside his Rainelle home on the night of June 23.

Too many times in West Virginia history, we’ve mourned those who have lost their lives in a disaster. Let us not forget any of their names.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.