Microburst slams Putnam cemetery (video)
HURRICANE, W.Va. -- A.J. Nicholas was born July 22, 1822, and died Aug. 12, 1897, and is buried next to his wife, Lydia, in Mount Vernon Cemetery in Teays Valley.
More than 115 years later, Nicholas' gravestone -- the oldest marker in what was once a small family cemetery -- now rests on its side, toppled by the microburst that caused severe damage to a small part of Putnam County two weeks before.
The damage to the cemetery grounds includes several displaced headstones and two toppled trees, as well as other damaged trees in danger of creating more problems, according to Ramona Erwin, a member of the Mount Vernon Cemetery Association. That's why the association has paid more than $7,000 so far to clear the debris and repair the plots impacted by the storm.
"Over the years, storms have taken down trees and we've had to have them taken care of," Erwin said. "This is the worst we've ever had."
The association is in a unique situation -- the land the cemetery occupies doesn't belong to any individual or church, and upkeep of the cemetery was left to individual families before the cemetery association was formed in 1985. The group's five trustees have worked since then to maintain the cemetery and, in recent years, repair damaged cause by severe weather.
"This is almost a family cemetery for us, too," Erwin said. "Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles -- they're all buried here."
Joanne Smith, who has worked with the association for 19 years, said the fallen and splintered trees posed a danger to nearby houses, but a local contractor was able to clear the worst of the damage before Memorial Day.
"I'm just thankful we had the money to do it," Smith said. "It just seems like we're having a lot of storms around this area now."
According to Smith, the association has had problems with severe storms in the past, most recently in 2011, when two major storms forced the association to clear other trees. The damage caused by the microburst -- a small, but intense storm -- is the worst Smith or Erwin have witnessed, and it has drained a large part of the group's funds.
"It hasn't exhausted our existing funds yet, but it's dipping in a lot," Erwin said.
The microburst caused extensive damage in a small part of Teays Valley on May 23, destroying two mobile homes and injuring two people. According to the National Weather Service, the storm was reported to be 150 yards wide and roughly a third of a mile long with winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour -- comparable to those of a tornado.
The Mount Vernon Cemetery Association is a volunteer organization. Donations for the care and upkeep of the cemetery can be made through checks payable to the MVCA and forwarded to Joanne Smith, 4129 Teays Valley Road, Scott Depot, WV, 25560.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at email@example.com or 304-348-5100.