On November 4, 1985 -30 years ago today - I worked as the Curriculum Director in Marlinton, Pocahontas County, WV. The town of Marlinton was built on the flood plain between the Greenbrier River and Knapp’s Creek. Heavy tropical rains in the mountains to our north called for the rivers to rise significantly and we sent the students home early. The Marlinton campus included the elementary school, middle school and district office. I assisted in moving buses to high ground and other prep for high water.
I returned to see one of our maintenance men wading out with a female custodian on his back along with the superintendent and the last of the crew on-site. Superintendent Carl Holland and others agreed there was nothing more we could do. Everyone headed home to the west. Head Custodian Tim Wade and I needed to go east, through the water that was already roaring down 10th avenue.
In the dark, Tim (he’s built like a bean pole) and I held on to each other as we waded water to our waists to get home. Firewood, tires and gasoline floated by us from the gas station up the road. The water did not reach my home that night, but some not so lucky neighbors moved in with us and slept on the couch. My wife and I had two little ones. The river crested at 10 feet above flood.
The next morning, the skies cleared and the waters started to recede. I put on my hip wader fishing boots and walked/waded back down to the school and district office. First on the scene, I found the older buildings had taken in 8 ft of water and the new elementary school, built on fill to put it above the 100 year flood plain, took in 4 feet. My friend Arch, retired teacher and coach, whose home was next to the school, spent the night with his wife in their attic. The water stopped one foot from their ceiling.
It is amazing what even 4 feet of muddy water can do when it enters a classroom. Everything that floats does so. Books swell up to double their original size. Every classroom looks like it was stirred with a ladle and when the water leaked out, a 5 inch layer of peanut butter mud covers everything.
Three people in that community died that night. Several houses washed down the river and broke up against the main bridge. We spent the next week mucking out classrooms and disinfecting with the help of volunteers from all over the country. It was a great testament to how a community can pull together. FEMA brought us trailers for the middle school which was unsalvageable. We missed 5 days of school and actually did quite well as a district with insurance and federal assistance.
Many well-meaning people sent us junk we couldn’t use – old furniture, 20 year old text books, junk appliances.
That little community is not much different today. Many businesses have moved out of town to higher ground. We built a new middle school out of town. The Core of Engineers has studied flood control for the last 30 years. Still no dam and no flood walls.
Thanks for indulging my little stroll down memory lane.