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West Virginia residents told to stay away from cleanup areas

By HEATHER ZIEGLER

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

McMECHEN, W.Va.  — Stay away. That is the message local law enforcement has for the public as they coordinate the cleanup efforts in several areas of the Northern Panhandle devastated by flooding and landslides late Friday and early Saturday.

The 12th Street area of McMechen remains under water Saturday morning after flooding rain and mud poured into the street.
(Photo by Scott McCloskey)

Just when the residents of McMechen thought it was over, another devastating rainstorm decimated the city, dropping 4.2 inches of rain in a very brief time. They experienced a similar story one week ago today.

Not since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 have officials and residents of this tight-knit Marshall County community experienced such devastation from water and mud, said Marshall County Office of Emergency Management Director Thomas Hart on Saturday amid the cleanup effort.

The storms that struck the area were hit and miss in nature, striking some communities hard while sparing others. Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties in the Northern Panhandle were impacted, but not in every community. Flooding also occurred in Belmont County where Ohio 7 remained closed at Shadyside and Bellaire due to high water. The exit ramps to Shadyside remained closed at press time.

“McMechen was the hardest hit. The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said McMechen got 4.2 inches in a very tight timeframe,” Hart said. “The water has gone down but there is mud, rocks and debris everywhere.”

At the height of the storm, firefighters from throughout the county helped evacuate residents from flooded homes. Hart and other officials in the county and city of McMechen met with members of the National Guard on Saturday morning to do an assessment of the damage. The Guard will help with removal of the mud, rocks, tree limbs and debris left in all areas of McMechen, especially in the south end of the city.

A nearly two-block section of Marshall Street in the middle of town was closed Saturday as city crews continued clearing mud and large debris that slid onto the street from the nearby hillside where Jims Run overflowed its banks. A large backhoe loader was being used to remove large amounts of mud and debris that accumulated on Marshall Street in front of the firehouse. An old fire truck was still surrounded by rocks and debris Saturday morning, as crews worked through the early morning hours to clear debris from the firehouse.

Many homes in the 21st Street area of McMechen were still surrounded by flood water mid-morning Saturday. A large portion of Ninth Street was blocked by large rocks and debris. Many residents were seen clearing mud and debris surrounding their property and vehicles.

Moundsville native Sandra McCloud, who has resided in an apartment complex along Marshall Street for the past14 years, said she has never seen flooding this bad in Marshall County. She said Jims Run overflowed its banks last night and she watched mud and debris flow between the buildings onto Marshall Street. A shelter across the street from the McMechen Community Fire Department also was inundated with mud.

Benwood also sustained damage including several businesses on Marshall Street that experienced flooding. Thick mud filled the street and city crews worked throughout the day Saturday to clean up the streets and assist businesses. Firefighters from McMechen, Benwood, Moundsville and Washington Lands responded to the McMechen area to help.

“Boggs Run was hit hard. There is significant damage there,” Hart said. “Fish Creek also is reporting water is still high there.”

Hart and local law enforcement are asking the public to stay out of said the clean-up area.

“If you are not a resident or part of the response, please stay out of these areas,” Hart said.

Officials are working with the Red Cross, Appalachian Outreach and Community Lutheran Partners to assist families.

In Wetzel County, the Hundred Volunteer Fire Department “lost everything” as flood water and mud filled the new station, affecting the structure and equipment. Bert Anderson of Hundred Volunteer Fire Department confirmed the news, stating that four trucks were lost due to flood waters. Fire trucks and an ambulance were filled with water and mud. Pine Grove and Valley High School were flooded. Hundred/Littleton PSD customers are under a boil/conserve order.

Councilman Chipper Goff asked Hundred residents to please use water sparingly. He said the town had lost “four good wells last night.” He said the town had 10,000 gallons of water in a tank, as 40,000 gallons were lost due to a broken line. Goff asked that residents boil water until further notice.

Goff, along with the Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management, both stated that officials were working to establish a shelter at Hundred High School.

Likewise, the process of cleanup will be difficult for residents of Pine Grove. The town has been struggling with sewage and water system issues and was already under a boil and conserve order after a piece of equipment broke at the water plant last week.

Valley High School in Pine Grove also received flooding.

In Brooke County, W.Va. 67 was closed due to landslides.

In Ohio County, amid the chaos of what Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo called the worst flooding he’s seen since the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, crews recovered a body from the Ohio River early Saturday which they believe is that of a teenager who has been the subject of a search since Sunday.

Emergency crews and family members had been searching for 19-year-old Page Gellner since late Sunday, when she and her boyfriend, 24-year-old Michael Grow, were swept by raging flood water into Browns Run. Grow died at a local hospital after being pulled from the water.

Just before midnight, authorities were alerted to a body spotted in the Ohio River near Heritage Port in Wheeling. Teams from Wheeling’s police and fire departments used several boats to search the river, eventually discovering the body of a female. According to Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo, the body was being transported to Wheeling Hospital early this morning for positive identification.

However, he said authorities were aware of only one missing person in the area’s waterways.

“We were only searching for one person, so that is the assumption,” Vargo said.

The timeline for confirming the identity of the body by a medical examiner was unclear, though Vargo said Gellner’s family had identified markings on her body for which to look.

Also during the storm, water rose quickly on Kruger Street in Elm Grove, stranding at least one motorist. The lawn of the Osiris Temple remained a lake Saturday morning. The YMCA in Elm Grove was closed for several hours Saturday as some flooding occurred there. Homes in the Springdale area also saw water in basements and yards.

Peters Run Road remained closed Saturday due to downed trees and power lines and no other Ohio County roads were closed Saturday.

No water or sewage lines were affected in Wheeling and Ohio County, official said, and those systems are safe.

For those needing relief and assistance from property damage from flooding can contact TEAM RUBICON at 1-800-451-1954. This organization has been in the Wheeling area since Monday and is working hard to provide relief.

For those that wish to volunteer and assist in cleanup and other relief efforts, you can text 304-312-4222. This will put you in touch with leadership of Community Lutheran Partners, a member of WV Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters or (VOAD).

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said during disasters, it is not uncommon for scammers to attempt to take advantage of those wishing to help. He asked the public to report suspicious encounters. For those wishing to donate financial assistance to flood victims in the valley, contact the Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley by calling 304-242-3144 or preferably by making online donations at CFOV.org and labeling your donations “Flood”

(Scott McCloskey, Ian Hicks, J.W. Johnson and Lauren Matthews contributed to this story.)

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