Flood of 1985

Charleston Gazette
November 8, 1985

8 counties declared disaster area

By Patty Vandergrift, Staff Writer

President Reagan declared eight West Virginia counties a major disaster area late Thursday, enabling the state to receive federal money to help residents rebound from catastrophic floods.

Fifty-one teams of federal and state workers had gone to 22 counties Thursday, documenting devastation to homes, businesses, bridges and roads.

Mannie Griffith, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said one federal official told him, "I've seen many disasters but this is among the worst I've seen."

State Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass, who conducted his own survey Thursday, said farm land along the Potomac watershed in Hardy County is "permanently lost."

"The topsoil is gone in so many of those areas. There's no way I can describe the disaster up there. This is the prime agricultural area of the state."

The death toll rose to 20 by Thursday and authorities expected it to go higher. Thirty-nine people were reported missing.

Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, joined by state employees from the departments of Highways, Natural Resources and Tax, compiled a preliminary report of the damage Thursday. John Price, press secretary to Gov. Arch Moore, said a more complete report is expected late today.

Moore, who toured the flood-wracked areas Wednesday and Thursday, had asked the president for the disaster designation Wednesday.

The federal money will be used to help individuals as well as state and local governments, Price said. "There are loans and grants and other programs available - programs just to get people back on their feet, to make sure they have blankets, food and shelter."

Moore has also asked the president to advance the state money to cover the 25 percent share required to match federal relief funds.

House Speaker Joseph Albright, D-Wood, Thursday urged the governor to call the Legislature into special session if the state does not get 100 percent federal aid.

"It appears from the size of the disaster that the 25 percent match cannot be made from existing appropriations. I don't think the full magnitude of the disaster is known to anyone in the state, but 25 percent of millions is still likely to be millions," Albright said.

"I have suggested he (Moore) convene a special session so the Legislature can be fully advised of the size of the disaster and the funds needed."

Delegate Marjorie Burke, D-Gilmer, joined in Albright's request for lawmakers to meet before the regular session in January. Burke, a member of the House Finance Committee, said it is crucial to "get businesses reopened, people back to work and shelters for the homeless."

Flood recovery work was in different stages Thursday, depending on the area and when it got hit by the record floodwaters, Price said. "We've still got people in shelters but I don't know the count."

In some counties, emergency workers were still concentrating in rescue efforts. Price said special military personnel were sent to Pendleton County Thursday. "They were airlifted in there today to look for people that might still be trapped in remote areas."

State police reported that five people, including a young girl with broken ribs and a pregnant woman, were whisked away by helicopter from the Cherry Grove area to a hospital in Elkins for treatment.

Major M. P. Koerner said troopers arrested a man in Greenbrier County who insisted upon not being rescued. "They saved him in spite of himself," Koerner said.

Food, water, cots, blankets and body bags were sent to Marlinton in Pocahontas County.

Heavy equipment was moved into Pendleton County to clear highways and bury poultry. Residents were still without telephones, water and electrical service.

Officials were still working Thursday to get the Clarksburg water plant working. About 55,000 people in Harrison County were affected by the breakdown, said Don Kuntz, director of the state's environmental engineering division.

"People in Clarksburg are not getting enough water," said Jim Hodges, Kuntz's assistant. "They're getting enough to drink, but that's about all."

Ronceverte in Greenbrier County and Paw Paw in Morgan County were also without water, he said. The National Guard hauled thousands of gallons of water, bottled by milk companies around the region, to areas with shortages.

Victims identified to date include:

Lynn Taylor, 89, of Albright
Jim Flinn, 62, of Moorefield
Randy Spencer Sr. of Pendleton County
Randy Spencer Jr. of Pendleton County
Mary Spencer of Pendleton County
Dorothy Spencer of Pendleton County
Ivan Stone, 65, of Pendleton County
Ruby Skeens, 56, of Renick
Darren Skeens, 4, of Renick
Rose Mick, 73, of Nettie
Leo Mace of Marlinton
Jean Lane, 57, of Buckhannon
Joseph Guild, 59, of Buckhannon
Rob Roy Watkins, 69, of Moorefield
Noble Gunnoe, 59, Beckley


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