WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — When you drive through White Sulphur Springs today you have to look closely to see the scars from the 2016 flood.
They are still there, but former Mayor Lloyd Haynes will tell you they’re almost invisible thanks to the resiliency of the town’s residents and the commitment of workers in the city hall and out towners.
Haynes was the mayor five years ago when the rain started falling on June 23, 2016. He said he didn’t think much about the rainfall as he brought his ailing wife home from the hospital.
“I got her settled and when I really realized how bad it was is when I went to pickup her medicine at the drug store. That’s when I realized the rain had really intensified,” Haynes said.
Haynes was just trying to get through the middle of town and within minutes his car was surrounded by water and before he knew it, he was in peril.
“My car was just about ready to float. I had to get back to my wife so I tried to get turned around. I finally got enough traction to get turned around and get back home,” he explained in a recent conversation with MetroNews.
He contacted city hall to begin work on a response. There, he found chaos. Many city employees were losing their homes as well. The downtown streets became a river as the typically mild streams like Howard’s Creek and its tributaries rose from their banks and backed up on the city’s main drag. The water was up into some businesses by six feet or more. Boats replaced cars on the city’s streets and homes were washing away.
“It came up fast and hard. The pressure was what was so devastating. We had houses where the water forced them off their foundation and onto neighboring houses,” Haynes said.
Sadly, lives were also lost. Law enforcement and fire departments from all over the state were there, trying to rescue stranded residents who were on the roofs of their house trying to escape. It was a terrible time.
A day later, the water receded to reveal an even bigger horror as the city’s infrastructure was gone along with most of its homes and businesses. Streets were rolled up like tissue paper. Houses were piles of sticks and every surface had a coating of mud.
“It seemed like you weren’t visiting White Sulphur Springs, it was like you were visiting a third world country. My first thought was, ‘How in the heck are we going to come out of this mess?'” Haynes said.
As terrible as the situation was at city hall, for Haynes it suddenly became worse at home. Amid a city in ruin, the Mayor lost his wife. She died the day after the flood and for Haynes it was almost too much to bear.
“I was torn between two catastrophes,” he said. “Some people wanted to know afterward, how did you have the strength? I didn’t. I had to depend on God Himself. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been totally on my own.”
But amid his terrible suffering, both for a lost love and for his lost town Haynes was determined, along with the city workers, this wasn’t going to be their end.
“I told them we can do one of two things; we can sit here, wring our hands, and say ‘Why me?’ or ‘Poor me.’ and wait for somebody to ride in on a white horse and save us or we can start acting for ourselves. They all agreed we needed to act for ourselves,” said Haynes.
Slowly but surely and with the help of many from outside the area, debris disappeared, the mud dried and was washed away, and mitigation work tamed the creeks. New homes, built with the hammers and saws of numerous volunteers, started to take shape. Today, the rebuild is still unfolding, but the rebound of White Sulphur Springs five years later is remarkable and impressive.
Haynes is no longer mayor, but when he left office he couldn’t stay away and was quickly hired by the new Mayor Bruce Bowling as the City Manager.
“If there came another flood, it would be a lot easier to survive now,” Haynes said.