Sunday, May 05, 2002

Receding waters leave devastation, little hope

Rescuers continue search for flood victims in Appalachia

By Mary Massingale
The Associated Press

        KEYSTONE, W.Va. — Streams began receding Saturday in ravaged central Appalachia as rescue workers searched for more victims of devastating floods that killed at least six people.

        Amid light rain, recovery crews worked to reopen roads blocked by mud, boulders and washouts in the region that encompasses parts of southern West Virginia, western Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

        “All we've got is water and mud now. That's it,” Cathy Hall said in Hurley, Va., weeping softly as she stood in a foot of soupy mud outside the Grundy National Bank branch office where she worked.

        Tinnie Gravely, 35, of Welch, took her four young children to a shelter and expressed fear for her town's recovery. “It would be a miracle,” Ms. Gravely said. “Everything's gone. It's a ghost town.”

        Torrents of water from a drenching storm poured down steep mountainsides and overflowed from streams and rivers winding through narrow valleys in the three states on Thursday and Friday.

        The death toll rose Saturday when a tree loosened by the flooding crashed down a hill along U.S. 52 onto a sport-utility vehicle, killing one of two adults inside. Three children scrambled out the back with minor injuries. A few hundred feet away, trees on the hillside creaked audibly.

        The vehicle was registered to a couple who had been living in emergency housing since they were left homeless by last July's flooding, the Rev. Hilda Kennedy said tearfully at the accident site.

        She said she feared McDowell County may have difficulty recovering from the flood so soon after last year's devastation. The July flood and other heavy rains last spring were blamed for at least six deaths in West Virginia alone. “There's not enough money in the state of West Virginia to repair it this time,” she said.

        Many residents have accused the timber and coal industries of worsening the flood threat by stripping the land.

        Two people from Hurley were still missing, as were one person in Kentucky and seven in West Virginia.

        “The mud is so thick you stand there in horror, wondering what to do, where to start,” said Edna Drake, a deputy clerk with the Pike County, Ky., sheriff's department.


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