PINEVILLE, W.Va. — Every emergency situation for the past 31 years in Wyoming County, Dean Meadows lead the effort to get help to wherever it was needed. A former deputy, Meadows plans to retire this Friday, but even as his last day draws near, his county is under a threat of high water this week.
“I’m tentatively set to retire,” he laughed in a conversation Tuesday with Metronews as the National Weather Service issued watches for all of the southern coalfields anticipating intense rain. Meadows knows about intense rain. He still looks at the 2001 flood in his county as an event which shaped him as an emergency manager and shaped his county to tolerate high water.
“Areas we never saw water in before were flooded. We had mobile homes floating out into the highway and blocking the road. It was such a helpless feeling as phone calls were coming in and we knew until the rain stopped and the water started going down, there was really nothing we could do,” Meadows said.
When the rain finally did stop, one fifth of Wyoming County was impacted.
“We had 360 homes destroyed and another 1500 that had damage of some kind. We had 5,000 people in our county affected in some way. At the time we had 25,000 people, so one fifth of our county was affected by that flood,” he recalled.
But Meadows added what he observed in that difficult stretch showed him how to be an emergency manager. He specifically learned the power of accepting help. From all over the country, assistance poured into Wyoming County and slowly the recovery got underway. Meadows said he watched the way other county emergency officials responded to his county’s needs. The action taught him a lot about disaster response and how to handle things for his own county as well as to assist his neighbors. The 2001 flood also paved the way to much better floodplain management.
“People wanted to build back safely and we saw a great movement of that in Wyoming County. Since that time, we’ve had some significant rain, but never again the problems we saw then because of the diligence of our people,” he said.
Beyond the 2001 flood, Meadows recalled the Derecho as another challenging time for his county. The power outages in the dead of summer forced his team to work on creating cooling stations, which was a new concept. Until that time, they had worked to create shelters for people to get warm. Meadows said mining accidents were another area which was a significant part of his position in the county through the years.
He never aspired to be the county’s emergency services director, but said when he served as a Wyoming County sheriff’s deputy he fell in love with opportunities to help his fellow county residents. When it became official 911 service would come to Wyoming County, he immediately put in for the job of running the facility. He’s the only 911 Director to ever serve in Wyoming County. He’ll be replaced Friday by Tim Ellison who will take over the job.
“I’m getting ready to go do a lot of fishing,” Meadows said.
His trip may be postponed, as usual, depending on what Mother Nature has in store for Wyoming County this week.