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Mannington residents begin cleanup process

By Stephen Santilli

For the Exponent Telegram

MANNINGTON, W.Va.  — Usually after a big flood, there is an acrid smell in the air that lingers for days. But on Sunday in Mannington, the site of the worst flash flooding that struck Marion County early Saturday morning, the smell was different. Bleach could be seen and smelled nearly everywhere in the community — at local businesses, private homes, on the street and in the air.

Items and cleaning supplies sit outside a Manninton business Sunday afternoon.
(Photo by Stephen Santilli)

Recovery efforts started almost immediately after the flood waters had started to subside.

Eight two-man teams from the Marion County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management were conducting damage assessments. Their task was to determine how many structures were damaged and how many people had been displaced from their homes. These reports are then forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the recovery process.

For most affected by the floodwaters, the damage to their homes and businesses can eventually be repaired, but the toll on their emotional well-being was high and will take much longer to heal. One such person was Nianda Hamilton who was trapped in her trailer along Buffalo Creek in knee-deep water for over three hours before water rescue personnel extracted her, her husband, nephew and three dogs and cats.

“It (the creek) rose so quick. There was no time,” said Hamilton.

Nianda’s mother, Judy Hamilton, who lives across the street from her daughter’s trailer, was naturally concerned about her daughter and her family. “We couldn’t even make it to her trailer across the street because the current was so strong,” Judy said.

Nianda then continued to relive her harrowing experience. “It was about 3 a.m. when we heard the water. The front porch started to go and when it came off, you could hear cracking and all kinds of noises,” she said.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice receives an update on the flooding from Manniington Mayor Jim Taylor.
(Photo by Stephen Santilli)

At that point, Nianda and her family were already standing in ankle-deep water, and that’s when the trailer was ripped off its foundation and spun 90 degrees, turning sideways. The gas line to the trailer held strong as the trailer slammed into a large sycamore tree.

“That tree is the only thing that saved us from the trailer flipping over, going down the river and killing us,” she said. It was evident that Nianda was grateful for that sturdy tree, but she also couldn’t mask her appreciation for the water rescue team. “After the trailer spun around, we got to the highest part of the trailer then and put all the cats and the dogs on the bed in the back of the trailer. We waited in knee deep water for three hours.

One of the rescue boats that showed up early Saturday morning capsized, and a neighbor attempted three times to paddle out to help extricate them from the precariously perched trailer, but had to turn back each time due to the raging force of the water.

Judy Hamilton was across the street on her second floor porch yelling and screaming for her daughter. “She (Nianda) was in the window screaming for help. It was horrible waiting for help and knowing there was nothing I could do for my daughter. I kept praying and praying,” Judy said.

Judy became emotional when she was asked about the water rescue crew that eventually was able to rescue her daughter and her family. Her daughter, Nianda, then pulled her close and gently told her, “Mom, I made it!”

Nianda summed up her experience by comparing it to the scores of surgeries she has had to endure due to a disability. “I’d rather go through 67 more surgeries than go through this again. I’m just glad we’re alive,” she said.

Kathy Fast, owner of Ye Olde Gator Bowl, said the business was devastated and added she had nothing left inside the premises. Sinks and water lines were ripped out of walls. “We’ll have to start from nothing. We need help,” said Fast.

Fast has no flood insurance for the business, which she purchased last year and opened in December 2016. “The Mannington Fair is next week, which is a big event for local vendors, and I put everything I had into stocking for the fair, but it’s all gone and the building it was stored in out back,” said Fast.

Still, Fast was hopeful. “We clean up, put it all together and keep moving on,” she said.

Fast was moved by the people who showed up in Mannington offering to help. “It’s very heart touching. Something like this brings out the good in people,” she said.

Ben Kolb, the owner of the Nativibes art gallery, spent Sunday dropping off cleaning supplies, bottled water and fans to his neighbors. “I’m going to the drop-off center, picking up supplies and driving it around to people,” he said. “… The governor went through this last year down in Greenbrier (County) so he knows what it’s all about. He’ll help us.”

Susan Starkey and her daughter Johnna own and operate Starkey’s Bar and Grill. They were busy, along with friends and neighbors, cleaning up after “the flood took out everything,” Susan said.

“We will save this place, and we’re looking for help with cleaning, restoring it and even funding would help,” Johnna said. “Our community has come together. It’s because of “small town living,” which means everybody around here has each other’s back.”

“Seems like in West Virginia in times of disasters, people come together,” Susan said.

State Sen. Roman Prezioso was on hand at the Mannington Fire Department Sunday morning. “I want to tell the people of Mannington that people around the state are very concerned. I’ve had several colleagues calling me since yesterday asking what they can do to help,” he said.

Prezioso said the Legislature and governor have the responsibility to find funding to help with recovery efforts. “We’re going to do our best to make sure this tragedy is dealt with appropriately,” he said. “People are resilient and come together and support one another and hold each other up. We’ll make this work.”

Finding temporary housing for displaced families is one critical need, and the senator said he has been in discussion with several people throughout Marion County to identify space for lodging for those affected by the flooding.

Mannington Mayor Jim Taylor briefed Gov. Jim Justice on the situation. He hosted the governor as they took an extended tour of flood-ravaged areas of Mannington. “We need funding to get things back to where they were before. The fair (Mannington Fair) starts in eight days,” Taylor said.

He added that the number of volunteers in Mannington was very high. “It is incredible. People have been knocking on doors asking how they could help. When you have people like that, it’s an honor to call yourself mayor,” he said.

“Ten percent of homes have some level of damage,” Gov. Justice said, noting that the recently renovated swimming pool was full of mud. He said Mannington was blessed in one way in “that you didn’t have loss of life.”

The governor talked about the flooding that hit Greenbrier County last year. “I lived this. I know what you’re going through,” he said.

Justice also spoke of the pain of having to throw away precious items and keepsakes. “Everything important to them is out in a pile now. Breaks your heart in every way,” he said.

“You have several loyal government people on hand to help you. I will do what I tell you I’ll do. I promise you with all my soul to do what I can within my power to help these people get back to normal. This process will take time and won’t be fast enough, but we’re here and will work hard for you,” Justice said.

West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer was on hand to oversee the cleanup efforts during the state of emergency. “We have folks out doing several different missions. Community assessment teams that will be providing support to the county and city folks for supplies, water if needed, whatever they need to help them,” Hoyer said.

The National Guard will be working with FEMA officials, who will determine what type of public assistance the community needs, Hoyer said.

Approximately 80 National Guardsmen were working on Sunday, and the general thinks that number will increase to nearly 100 when the “load and dump” teams start carrying away flood debris.

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