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100 Spencer homes damaged by flooding

Chip Ellis
Joann Gandee removes carpet and flooring from her flood-damaged Spencer home Friday.
Chip Ellis State Adjutant General James Hoyer and Spencer Mayor Terry Williams (right) accompany Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on a tour of flash-flood damage in Spencer on Friday.
Chip Ellis Spencer residents with houses fronting Spring Creek remove flood-damaged items from their homes Friday.

SPENCER, W.Va. -- During his career in the West Virginia Army National Guard, Don Hudkins was called to active duty to provide disaster relief following the deadly 1972 Buffalo Creek flood and the widespread flooding that swept through the state's Eastern mountains in 1985.

Now retired, Hudkins found himself in a National Guard armory again Friday -- this time to seek aid from a Red Cross disaster-assistance center established there in the wake of Thursday's flash flooding in his hometown.

Hudkins owns one of about 100 Spencer houses damaged by the most severe flooding to sweep through this Roane County town since 1903. While he and his wife were able to take temporary shelter in a friend's house, they have been getting meals and picking up cleanup supplies at the Red Cross center.

Since Thursday night, the center has served or delivered nearly 1,000 meals to flood victims and emergency workers. Seven people spent the night in the center.

"I know what it's like to go 11 days without taking a shower to help people after a flood," Hudkins said. "Now I know what it feels like to be on the other side. It makes you appreciate what people are willing to do for you."

Hudkins said he and his wife, like many other flood-stricken Spencer residents who lack flood insurance, also are wondering what assistance will be available to help them repair structural damage and clean up or replace water-logged household items.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who toured Spencer on Friday, said it would take a few days to determine if Roane County is eligible to receive flood relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The fact that the most severe damage is limited to only one county could make receiving a federal disaster declaration difficult, he said.

National Guard health and damage assessment teams began moving through Spencer and the surrounding countryside Friday.

West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer, who accompanied Tomblin during his tour of Spencer, said an additional 85 to 100 National Guard soldiers are expected to help clear debris and flood-ruined household goods from Spencer, Walton and other sections of Roane County over the next several days.

"We have a lot of people with no flood insurance who have gone 50 or 60 years without having water get into their houses until now," Spencer Mayor Terry Williams told Tomblin. "Many of these folks are without the ways, means or abilities needed to tear out carpet and remove flood-damaged furniture from their homes. It's pretty sad."

State Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato, who also accompanied Tomblin, told Williams that three flood-relief teams from the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters group were en route to Spencer to perform just those types of chores.

All roads leading into Spencer had reopened by Friday morning, although several secondary roads in the Reedy area remained blocked by gradually receding floodwater. Work is expected to begin Monday to repair a slip along U.S. 119 between Walton and Gandeeville that restricts traffic to one lane.

Williams said several Spencer businesses received heavy damage from flooding, including a Ford dealership and the Willard C. Starcher Co., which sells auto parts and industrial and medical gases. The Roane County Emergency Squad building was inundated with 3 feet of floodwater, and one ambulance was flooded before it could be moved.

Street crews already have begun collecting flood-damaged household goods. "They'll keep working through the weekend," Williams said. With help from the National Guard, he added, "we should have it cleaned up in three or four days."

Tomblin said that in response to public concerns, Division of Environmental Protection inspectors have examined the dams at two Spencer-area reservoirs -- Charles Fork Lake and Silcot Fork Lake -- and found them to be structurally sound and functioning normally.

No one was killed or injured in Thursday's flooding.

Water rose rapidly, starting early in the morning. Jordan Evans said she noticed the water from flood-swollen Spring Creek approaching her Front Street home at about 6:30 a.m., as she prepared for work.

"We had time to move the TV and the electronics upstairs, but our couches and maybe our washer and dryer are ruined," she said. "The flood totaled the truck -- it drowned," she said, pointing to a high water mark at the top of the cab's window.

"The water came all the way behind the house, but we were able to get up the hill to the street behind us," Evans said. "We weren't able to get back here until about 9 or 10 at night."

While a long list of cleanup chores and expenses awaited Evans and her neighbors, things could have been worse, she said.

"The good part is that everyone's OK."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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