Something special is happening in Wetzel County.
Local residents, even strangers, are helping devastated communities like Hundred recover from July’s flash flooding.
It’s part of a long rebuilding process, but no one here is giving up.
Folks are doing what they’ve done since flood waters hit July 29: Helping from the heart.
Nothing is taken for granted.
Church members have cooked (and delivered) thousands of meals to the hard-hit town, and others began to volunteer as soon as the high water began to recede.
A fundraiser will be held tonight in New Martinsville and the proceeds will go towards helping flooded businesses.
While the money matters, it is also a symbolic show of support for the embattled rural communities, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Thomas.
“Every time I am out in these areas hit hardest by the floods I am always struck by how hard people are working to move past this disaster, and how much they appreciate the help that’s been provided to them,” she said.
That’s the good news.
But the damage is so great that much more is needed, especially building supplies (plywood, OES board and 2×4 lumber) and folks who can help with construction (builders, plumbers and electricians).
Commercial buildings in the small downtown are closed, and houses are uninhabitable.
There’s no longer a local grocery store, the American Legion has shut its doors and a newly built volunteer fire department station sustained major damage.
Fifteen of the 20 businesses were hard hit and struggling to return.
Thirty four people still need a place to live. Housing needs are becoming more important as cold weather gets closer, according to community organizers.
Others are dealing with water-related problems like mold while staying in their homes, and waiting for federal assistance.
Sherry Olson is determined to stay positive, even though mold and crumbling walls are part of everyday life now .
Wetzel County was one of 12 counties named in Gov. Jim Justice’s disaster declaration. Other nearby communities that were hit by flooding included Littleton, Pine Grove, Jacksonburg, Smithfield and Princeton.
Hundred, however, had also had a flash flood just a week earlier, so that only made the situation worse, said City Councilman Chipper Goff.
Part of the irony is that such a small stream could do so much damage, he said.
Most of his life, Goff never even knew its name.
Now he will never forget Fish Creek, or the power its raging waters possess.
“It’s hard to believe that not too long ago this lot right here was where we had our Fourth of July celebration. There was lots of food, games and people having a good time,” he said.
“And then on July 29 we were having a major disaster that wiped out almost everything. It’s just amazing how in four weeks you can go from having the best time ever to the worst time.”
Not only was his own home flooded with more than 12 inches of water inside, his brother’s was also ravaged.
He said a neighbor’s house was totally destroyed, including an above ground swimming pool that was physically twisted out of shape by the water’s force.
A volunteer fireman who waded into the dark waters to help others, Goff said he’ll never forget feeling helpless as more 911 calls were received.
It was heartbreaking to see the new fire station and expensive trucks under water, knowing how many volunteer hours had gone into the building and equipment.
He said the brand new fire department had only been open two weeks before the flood. Losses there also included the building’s new state-of-the-art kitchen
“Even then, I knew moving forward is all we could do. And that was even more clear when it got light and we could see how bad things really were. Heartbreaking, just heartbreaking.”
Hundred High School’s field house was also under water, and football games are now being played at another school due to flood damage.
Goff isn’t giving up, and is one of several volunteers staffing a local relief officer so flood victims can register their needs.
There’s strength in numbers, and that is helping boost morale.
“As the floods rise, so do the people. Wetzel County strong,” reads a hand-lettered poster hanging on the makeshift office wall.
A bulletin board isn’t fancy or high tech, but it gets the job done, said local businesswoman Janie Stewart.
Slips of paper hang on it, and applications are tacked underneath depending on what’s needed at various structures – everything from debris removal to installing insulation.
Some folks need new appliances, plumbers and electricians are also in demand.
A moisture meter is available on loan to help combat mold. A musty smell still hangs in the air downtown as building owners continue to fill dumpsters with piles of discarded furniture and household items.
Much larger projects, including concrete work, elevating a home and building a new bridge, are still in the mix.
Stewart vividly recalls watching in the darkness as a wall of water rolled past without warning. She still can’t believe how much damage was done so quickly.
Ironically, the flood disappeared almost as soon as the heavy rains stopped and saturated hillsides stopped sending their watery load down onto homes.
“Well, put it this way. The flood water is gone, but we are all dealing with what is left and that’s not been easy for so many people. But we are getting through this together.”
Joy Kuhn, a Hundred resident with deep local roots, is busy answering phones, dealing with paperwork and patiently helping people who come into the volunteer center.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Turns out, her great, great, great, great grandfather Henry Church was the town founder and namesake.
Hundred got its name because Church lived to be more than 100 years old.
She knows, with certainty, what he’d say today as the town fights to come back despite great odds.
“I know he wouldn’t even think about giving up. Hundred has been through hard times before, and this time our goal is to make it even better than ever.”
Additional information is available on the REVITALIZE Hundred-Littleton 2017 Facebook page.
Anyone interested in making a financial donation or building materials, can contact the volunteer center at 304-775-2575 or the Chamber at 304 455-3825.