By ANDREA LANNOM
Justice, House Speaker Tim Armstead, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, along with a volunteer group from Texas that was still working in the community, gathered at the Clendenin Advent Church.
Armstead and Carmichael announced appointments to the new interim committee established under the bill and Justice ceremonially signed House Bill 2935. The Legislature passed the bill April 8, and the governor approved the bill in April. The bill is effective July 7.
“It’s almost been a year since we stood here at this very spot,” Armstead said. “That’s why we’re here this day. This is where Gov. Tomblin came to visit Clendenin and encourage citizens. This site looks a great deal different than a year ago. Behind us, you could see what was left of the Dairy Queen and other buildings in the area. You can see it’s coming back. Clendenin is coming back just like Rainelle, White Sulphur Springs and Richwood, all the areas devastated by the flood.”
The bill creates an interim committee comprised of 10 members — five from the House and five from the Senate — to look at ways to prevent flooding and better coordinate efforts after a flood, such as making sure residents have adequate warning.
House members are Delegates Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette; George Ambler, R-Greenbrier; Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier; and Dana Lynch, D-Webster. Senate committee members are Sens. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha; Glen Jeffries, D-Putnam; Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; Chandler Swope, R-Mercer; and Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.
The bill also creates a state resiliency office, which will include agency heads in government, emergency management and the Department of Transportation. This office will coordinate efforts to move the state forward and annually review the state flood protection plan.
Before Justice signed the bill, he commended efforts of House and Senate leadership.
“From the day of the flood, all of us have been Americans and all of us have been West Virginians,” Justice said. “The help and all that has been done so spectacular and has been beyond belief. From my standpoint, other than losing my dad and mom, it’s the worst thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I look at the people who stepped up. You don’t have to be here.”
Last year, on this day, torrential rainfall led to floods that devastated much of the state.
“As we come on this first anniversary, it’s difficult for a lot of people. It’s very emotional,” Armstead said in an earlier interview. “At the same time, as we observe and remember whose lives were lost, observe the tragedy and challenges people faced, it’s also important that we also recognize how it showed the best in our state and people and how we stepped forward and took care of our neighbors. That’s another thing we need to observe as we hit this first year.”
Armstead recalled the floods in the Elk River community, saying he is thankful for people who helped in the recovery effort.
“I saw people take care of each other and their neighbors, giving their effort, their time, their resources to help their fellow West Virginians,” Armstead said. “That’s what we’re about in this state. … I’m thankful for that and it’s why I love the state I live in.”
Last year’s flood, plus the history of flooding in the state, motivated this legislation, Armstead said. He said every county has experienced flooding and through the last 52 years, more than 282 West Virginians have died because of flooding.
“There have been so many instances where flooding affected the state and its people and it’s absolutely necessary to do all we can to try to prevent it and, when we are unable to prevent it, to make sure we have adequate warning and make sure plans are in place for evacuation and ensuring evacuations,” Armstead said. “When that event occurs, we can have the right steps in place to recover and mitigate future flooding.”
Armstead said several people are back in their homes and many businesses have reopened in the last year. However, he said recovery is not over.
“I wished we were farther along, but I don’t think anyone recognized the magnitude of this disaster,” Armstead said. “We knew it was historic and something like we had never seen before but obviously, it’s going to take some time to get all the community restored to where they were before the flood.”
In an earlier interview, Baldwin described the devastation in his county from the thousand-year flood. He also was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation.
“It was severely affected,” he said. “We not only had a loss of life, a substantial loss of life for our small community, but we had millions in damages. We had families who were left homeless, businesses that had to shut their doors, at least temporarily. It affected everyone in some way.”
Baldwin, who lives in Ronceverte, said although his community didn’t experience as many negative effects as others in Greenbrier County, several members of his congregation were affected.
“I had two members of the congregation who lost their homes completely,” Baldwin said. “One moved back in the fall and was able to find permanent housing. She actually worked out of her home. So, she not only lost her home but her business as well … She and her family are settled now.”
He said another family received word they are getting a home in Hope Village. He said this speaks to the ongoing efforts.
“When FEMA was here in the immediate aftermath, they gave us a five-year horizon on recovery. This was the plan of things being ‘back to normal’ was not any time before five years. We know we have a long road ahead of us, but we are so far ahead of that schedule.”
Baldwin said the importance of this legislation is to prevent future floods.
“My grandmother has lived here since 1950 and has lived through a 100-year flood, a 500-year flood and a 1,000-year flood. It’s not a matter of if but when. That’s why I think it’s so important for us to have these resiliency measures in place, so we can coordinate and communicate when it does happen again. We can ask questions through that process of what’s been set up governmentally and try to ensure when it does happen that we have a warning system in place and do everything we can in advance to prevent these things from happening and have systems in place to access and distribute aid once it does happen.”
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