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2001 flood brought ‘utter devastation’ to Wyoming County

MULLENS, W.Va. — Former Wyoming County state lawmaker Rick Staton remembers what he saw once the floodwaters receded in downtown Mullens in July 2001.

“Just complete and utter devastation not only of my office but everything down that main street,” Staton reflected during a Thursday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the flood that surpassed all floods in Wyoming County.

Office of Emergency Services Director Dean Meadows said he remembers the helplessness.

“The water kept rising and we were getting calls from several different communities in the county and we just felt helpless because we couldn’t get anyone to them. It was quite a devastating event for us,” Meadows said on “Talkline” Thursday.

The National Weather Service said 11 inches of rain fell in four hours. The high water also caused damage in McDowell County but it was Wyoming County that took the hardest hit. Staton said downtown Mullens was wiped out.

“We were all just trying to dig out,” Staton, who owned a law office, said. “Everyone was just fending for themselves. You couldn’t help each other because every business downtown was affected.”

The damage was also significant in the communities of Oceana and McGraws. The storm came on a Sunday morning. Miraculously the flood only claimed one life. Meadows said the high water changed the county forever.

“We had over 300 homes that were totally destroyed, that had to be torn down. Another 12-hundred homes that had substantial damage to them and then probably at least 5,000 residences total that had some kind of effect,” Meadows said.

The West Virginia National Guard played a key role in helping the county dig out from the devastation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided disaster assistance.

Meadows said Wyoming County instituted a floodplain management program in the years after the flood and now there are very few homes and businesses in harm’s way. FEMA’s hazardous mitigation program was used to purchased hundreds of properties, prohibiting any future building on the land that close to the water.

“We see the water rising and it sort of spreads out in those areas and goes down. We’ve really helped out county with (floodplain management),” Meadows said.

Staton, who now lives in Charleston, said the 2001 flood fundamentally changed Wyoming County.

“There was a lot of out-migration, FEMA came in and bought out houses and businesses and tore them down. It looks a little empty but what is left there has grown and changed,” Staton said.

Meadows said no one wants a repeat of 2001.

“We’ve worked hard to build back farther, build up safer and whenever there’s a problem we use (FEMA’s) hazard mitigation and it’s worked really well for our county,” Meadows said.

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