Appalachia Digs Out After Deadly Floods

Floodwaters wash through bridge along U.S. 52 near Williamson, W.Va., which was constructed after another flood in 2001 AP

Floods and mudslides caused by torrential rainfall were blamed for at least six deaths in West Virginia and two in Virginia. Four people are still missing in West Virginia and one man was unaccounted-for in Kentucky.

Near the hard-hit southern West Virginia city of Welch, emergency officials briefly evacuated about 25 residences in a mobile home park Monday because state inspectors believed a small reservoir in a nearby industrial park was in danger of failing. Residents were allowed to return home before noon, McDowell County officials said.

Some southern West Virginia schools won't be able to reopen this year because of damage from last week's deadly floods, officials said Monday.

In addition to more than 500 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed in the area, one elementary school in McDowell County was destroyed and 11 others were damaged, county school Superintendent Mark Manchin said Monday.

"It's conceivable we may not get some of these students back this year," Manchin said by telephone from Iaeger High School, where 4 feet of water rushed into the school Thursday and left 4 inches of mud and muck in classrooms.

"You would not believe the devastation," Manchin said. "It defies belief. I have never seen anything like it in my life."

McDowell County schools had been scheduled to close June 4.

Five feet of water rushed through the main hall of Panther Elementary, which served about 160 students, and apparently moved the building off its foundation.

"It's a total loss and cannot be salvaged," Manchin said.

A mudslide caused extensive damage to Welch Elementary, and Iaeger's football field was destroyed, he said.

But he said the county's largest problem will be helping students traumatized by floods for a second time in a year. The county also was struck by floods last July that killed six people.

"Buildings can be replaced, but we are really concerned about the human side of this tragedy," Manchin said. "After this one, I understand a number of students psychologically have been affected."

In addition to the damage, two schools cannot be reopened because National Guard troops are living in them.

In western Virginia, Gov. Mark R. Warner and Sen. George Allen toured flooded areas Monday.

"The people of western Virginia will overcome this as they have in the past," Warner said.

President George W. Bush Sunday declared the storm-ravaged region a major disaster area, making federal aid available to help people in six counties -- Buchanan and Tazewell in Virginia, and McDowell, Mercer, Mingo and Wyoming counties in West Virginia.

Federal assistance to those stricken by the storms could include disaster housing, grants, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, as well as other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the storms, the White House said in a statement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said officials were still surveying damage and additional areas could be added to the disaster list.

On Sunday, as estimated 7,000 people remained without access to public drinking water while another 14,000 were being advised to boil tap water because of possible contamination.

More than 1,000 doses of tetanus vaccine were also shipped to the region over the weekend.

State officials said fair weather and fast-receding water levels were aiding in the search and cleanup effort. Electricity also had been restored to nearly all of 7,000 households that lost power last week.
  • Brian Dakss

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