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Long flood cleanup process begins in the Ohio Valley


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

McMECHEN, W.Va.  — Monday marked the start of a long and exhausting cleanup process in the debris-choked streets of McMechen, as bulldozers swept grime and ruined possessions into huge piles.

Members of the Army Reserve National Guard 119th Sapper Engineer Company clear mud and flood debris from Ninth Street in McMechen Monday afternoon. Many residents of the community were hit hard by Friday evening’s flash flooding.
(Photo by Scott McCloskey)
Alongside the machines were residents doing the same with spades and bags.

The National Guard, Marshall County Emergency Medical Service and the Red Cross were just a few of the agencies on hand Monday morning. According to City Clerk Julie Bratton, who had donned waders to help coordinate cleanup efforts, more than 400 residences in town were damaged in the Friday evening flood, many of them infiltrated by several feet of water with huge quantities of mud left behind.

Bratton said many area residents have shown up to donate time, supplies and equipment — including the family of Page Gellner, whose body was found early Saturday after she was believed to have been swept into Browns Run in Ohio County during another flash flood on July 23. Gellner’s family, Bratton said, donated 30 cases of water to the relief efforts, which had been donated to them for their own efforts.

Other gestures of generosity included the local ice cream truck driver, who made his rounds Sunday night, distributing ice cream to local children and refusing payment.

“There’s been some amazing stories here,” she said.

Hit particularly hard was the city’s fire department, which according to Assistant Fire Chief Andy Taylor was left barely functional as of Monday morning. Floodwater damaged many of the department’s power tools and other equipment, and even some rescue gear which had never been used.

“I haven’t even had mine on yet,” Taylor said of bunker gear, just recently purchased. “I had a guy try his on Friday night around 5 p.m., and it just went floating out the back door at 9 that night.”

Taylor said the department has been in contact with its insurance agency, but had no idea how long the process would take.

Although Taylor said the damage was so extensive the city couldn’t muster an effective response in an emergency situation, Moundsville and Benwood EMS were on hand to respond quickly to an emergency.

McMechen EMS is expected to be restored today.

“I can run a truck, but I can’t run (with) no people,” Taylor said. “Our EMS is up and running. We have one ambulance available, which is being dual-toned with Marshall County. Everybody’s busy here.”

Taylor said among the most common calls — and complications — they have received are from homeowners looking for help pumping silt and mud out of their basements, which their pumps can’t handle. He suggested homeowners add water to the muck to form a slurry which can be pumped out, or otherwise bail out the mud without pumps.

“With the National Guard here, they’re kicking butt at getting stuff cleaned up. We’re doing the best we can,” Taylor said.

An unexpected setback, Taylor added, was a lack of a dumping site for the abundant garbage left after the flood. Without any other easy solution, heavy trucks were hauling trash to a landfill near Follansbee — a three-hour round trip.

On the city’s administrative side, Bratton said only one of the city’s computers was undamaged by the water, as ruined equipment dried on the office’s muddy carpet Monday morning. Bratton said many records from as far back as the 1970s were lost, up to as recent as 2013.

“Our phone systems are completely down. We’ve lost our two main computers,” Bratton said. “We lost all our records.”

Officials said McMechen hadn’t seen such severe flood damage since August 1975, when a flash flood claimed the life of resident Frank Criswell. No injuries were reported during Friday night’s flood.

“It’s what it is. We’ll recover,” Mayor Gregg Wolfe said. “We’re going as fast as we can go, and we’re doing the right thing. We’ll just keep working until it’s done.”

During the initial phase of the cleanup process, residents are being asked to park off the street while debris is piled up for disposal. On Wednesday, damage assessment is expected to begin.

In the meantime, Bratton advised that while some residents may be willing to give discarded items such as washers and dryers to those willing to haul them out of their homes, looters and scavengers will be prosecuted.

See more from The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

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