By August 8, 2017 Read More →

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin surveys Northern Panhandle flood damage

By JOSELYN KING

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Communities in Wetzel and Marshall counties affected by recent flooding are expected to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin learned Monday during a visit to the Northern Panhandle.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, speaks to Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo and other local leaders about flood relief assistance during a stop at the City-County Building in Wheeling on Monday.
(Photo by Joselyn King)

Affected residents in both counties also are expected to qualify for individual assistance to help pay for home damage caused by the flooding — but that is unlikely to be the case in neighboring Ohio County, West Virginia Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management James Gianato told Manchin, D-W.Va., and local officials by telephone.

While damage caused by flooding on July 28 likely will qualify Ohio County for public assistance from FEMA, the damage on that date alone was not widespread enough to meet the FEMA criteria for individual assistance, according to Gianato.

Two fatalities and much of the damage in Ohio County occurred during a previous rain event on July 23, and FEMA is considering the two episodes of flooding as separate events that cannot be combined, Gianato explained.

Local leaders said they would continue to plead Ohio County’s case to FEMA, and would ask the agency to consider the rains on separate days as a continuous event.

Manchin visited flooded areas in Hundred and McMechen before stopping at the Ohio County Emergency Operations Center in Wheeling.

“It’s been a very horrific tragedy … ,” Manchin said of the damage he witnessed. “It’s so easy to say we’re working on this, and people are working to get back to normal. They can’t get back to normal unless things move more quickly than they might be thinking. It’s convenient to sit in Charleston or in Washington and say, well, we’re moving the paperwork for you.”

Manchin called Gianato during the stops in McMechen and Wheeling, and he put the call on speakerphone so officials present could hear his discussion.

Gianato said the National Weather Service has the ultimate call in determining the severity of a storm.

“And we’re already talking to the weather service about getting the (July 23) storm … included in this declaration,” he said. “The challenge is going to be that you have a whole week’s separation with no rain in between the two, and getting them to say it’s all one event is going to be difficult. But that’s what we’re trying to do — trying to get them to count both storms as one event.”

Wheeling Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday said she would continue to push FEMA to have the storm events in Ohio County considered as one event.

“If the July 23 (flood) gets overlooked, we’re going to be leaving veterans behind and elderly folks who had their homes devastated,” she said. “I would have a hard time looking anyone in the face who suffered on July 23, and tell them their disaster isn’t as important as the one on July 28.”

Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, was among those meeting with Manchin in McMechen. Ferro said he remembered similar flooding in McMechen in 1975 that resulted in his neighbor being swept away by raging water in his driveway and pulled to his death under his parked truck.

He reports that many of the homes in McMechen — including his own — experienced flooding twice over a two-week period.

Marshall County and local leaders are estimating at least four homes in McMechen are a total loss due to the flooding, leaving the homeowners with important decisions to make.

“After the shock is over and reality sets in, they’re going to have to make some judgments about what they want to do,” Ferro said. “Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? These are their homes.”

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said cleanup in McMechen homes still continues more than 10 days after the July 28 flooding, as many of the residents have job responsibilities and can’t find time to clean up their homes and make them livable.

Many have volunteered to help residents affected by local flooding. Among them are groups of students from West Virginia University, who assisted in McMechen last week and were scheduled to be in Hundred on Monday.

The group is being led by WVU Student Government Association President Blake Humphrey of Wheeling, who could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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