Flood of 1985

Pendleton Times
November 14, 1985

Flood Leaves 16 Dead in Pendleton, $Hundreds of Millions in Damages

Entire County Pounded by Worst Flood in History

High waters resulting from five days of steady rain roared down the hollows and valleys of Pendleton County November 4 leaving at least 16 persons dead and hundreds homeless in the worst flood to hit this county in history.

Hundreds of homes were washed away and hundreds more were destroyed as walls of raging water struck with unyielding force. Rivers overflowing their banks cut new river channels through farms and skimmed thousands of acres of rich top soil from bottom land leaving mountains of rock and sand in its place.

Property damages will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Farm machinery, buildings, mobile homes, dead cattle, sheep, hogs and poultry were strewn along the entire length of the county as if this once fertile agricultural valley had been turned into a giant trash dump.

The community of Riverton, a town of approximately 150 persons situated in the North Fork Valley, was particularly hard hit. Some six or eight homes along the North Fork River washed completely away, and practically every other house and business place in the community was either destroyed or extensively damaged.

Much of the Smoke Hole area, nationally known for its rugged beauty and good trout fishing, was gutted. The raging water extended across the narrow valley from mountainside to mountainside sweeping away houses and road and everything in its path, leaving sheer vertical cliffs on each side extending into its path, leaving sheer vertical cliffs on each side extending into the river channel with no semblance of a road to be seen.

Evacuation centers were setup in the Franklin Elementary School where approximately 60 persons spent Monday and Tuesday nights and in the Dixie School at Riverton. However, it was necessary to evacuate the Dixie School Monday night when it was on the verge of collapsing.

The county was isolated from the outside works for three days with 18 bridges washed out and massive slides blocking roads in all sections of the county. Electricity and telephone service were halted with utility poles washed out and trees across lines. The only communication out of the county was provided by ham radio operators who worked 24 hours a day relaying emergency messages.

Communities within the county were isolated from each other making it impossible for local service organizations to render assistance to many areas. The Franklin Fire Department sent teams of members to try to get to isolated areas to assess their needs and try to get emergency supplies to them. Attempts were made to obtain help from the National Guard at Buckhannon and the Elkins Fire Department, but they were unable to get past Harman.

Sanitation and health problems posed a threat until the National Guard came in with helicopters and began airlifting medical supplies to isolated areas. Of particular concern were shortages of insulin and nitroglycerin and a means of distributing the supplies that were available to those who need them.

Water supplies throughout the county either were destroyed or the water was rendered unfit for drinking. All community water systems in the county were knocked out.

The large spring five miles south of Franklin which has been the sources of the town's water supply since the 1930s was filled with rock and gravel and much of the water line leading from the spring to town was washed out. Volunteers and the town maintenance crew working over the weekend laid 5,000 feet of water line through the fields south of Franklin. Town residents hauled water in buckets from a spring at the Fred Mullenax residence west of Franklin until Wednesday when the town water system was placed back into operation.

The community water system at Circleville was ruined, and several thousand feet of water line was washed out in the community water system being installed at Upper Tract. Residents have been boiling their water before using it on the advice of county sanitarian Raymond Harr.

Sewage also has been creating a major health hazard. The lagoon in the Franklin sewer system was washed out, and sewage throughout the county is running directly into streams and rivers.

Electricity was restored in Franklin on Wednesday and long distance telephone service from Franklin was restored Friday, but most of the remainder of the county still was without either electric service or telephone service on Monday of this week.

Two mobile home parks and four trailer camps along the South Branch of the Potomac River near Franklin were washed away or completely destroyed. Completely wiped out were the Trout Rock Trailer Park and Hanging Rock Trailer Park, both south of Franklin, and the trailer park at Meck's Cabins where 63 trailers and cottages washed away, and Thompson's Trailer Camp and Riverside Trailer Park north of Franklin and Cave Country Camping Area south of Franklin.

The swinging bridge spanning the South Branch of the Potomac River in South Franklin, which has survived floods for 45 years, was washed away, and the approach to the bridge a half- mile south of Franklin leading to Propst Gap was washed away.

Pendleton, along with seven other counties, was declared a federal disaster area last Thursday by President Reagan, making it eligible for federal assistance.


West Virginia Archives and History