West Virginia Mayor Offers an Eyewitness Account from Flood-Ravaged Town

Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber praises community spirit, asks for help and prayers for ‘Appalachian brothers and sisters’

By Bob Henry Baber

Note: This first-person report is adapted from a recent Facebook post by Bob Henry Baber, the newly elected mayor of Richwood, W.Va. He also served as mayor about a decade ago.

Bob Henry Baber at conference
Bob Henry Baber, the mayor of Richwood, W.Va., speaks at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference in Charleston, W.Va. in April 2015. Photo by Kelly Kernan.

RICHWOOD, W.Va. – It’s been over two weeks since the “Thousand Year Flood.” Today, for the first time, I will have the opportunity to go door to door to the 200 families who have been devastated by the flood. I have been unable to do so due to the barrage of issues ranging from the destruction of our roads and sidewalks, our water intake above the falls, and managing the logistics of assessing the town’s needs, and documenting them so that we can receive 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA. We have to match the other 25 percent with volunteer hours since we do not have any money to do so.

Thank God hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers have shown up whose hours we can count. I believe the damage is over $10 million. We have no Rite Aid, no drug store, no grocery store, no ball parks, no playgrounds or equipment, and on and on. And two of our three schools have suffered substantial damage.

We have had to close our redistribution center for cleaning supplies, food, and toiletries at the Red Gym because its floor has to be removed and replaced. We are going to move to the old furniture factory as soon as we can get massive amounts of mud out of it, have the fire department hose it down, and sanitize it. We have never received emergency housing for the displaced because federal law prohibits placing such entities in the flood plain, and that’s all we’ve got.

Many people mucked out their home, bleached, and moved back in, only to be told that their walls and floors must be torn out and the structure dried lest they be inundated by black mold in future months. The lucky have campers; the others are on their own. Proud Appalachians as we are, only two people used the Red Cross Shelter that has now pulled out due to lack of utilization. Many have left to join families in adjoining states who left years ago to find jobs. Others have moved in with friends and neighbors. Others have left their homes as is and departed for parts unknown. Our very high senior population has been resilient, but some are disoriented and distraught.

Because of our loss of coal jobs, and the emergence of Summerville as a regional economic hub with Wal-Mart and surrounding spin off stores, hotels, and restaurants some 40 minutes away, our people are too poor to afford flood insurance. We have no jobs. Chris Mondross and his wife, for example, had to give up their insurance years ago. They are in their 90s. Their house had two feet of water in it. They have lost everything. There are dozens like them. Middle class people.

What we have here and in our sister cities of White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle is an Appalachian Katrina, albeit on a far smaller scale. Yet it doesn’t feel small to me. It feels all encompassing.

Having said all this, I can tell you that bolstered by volunteers, the town has pulled together in every way and I am blessed to be the Mayor of Richwood. Many of you are too far away to help, but donations of construction materials, computers for our kids, appliances large and small, food, cleaning supplies and money(!) can be sent to:

Richwood City Hall

6 White Ave

Richwood, WV 26261

Or you can contribute to the Nicholas County Foundation/Richwood flood relief online or call (304) 872-0202.

We are your Appalachian brothers and sisters. Pray for us. Our region – which was already economically, culturally, and politically devastated – has now been hit with an unprecedented natural disaster.

Thank you for your consideration, pass the collection plate and God bless you all.

The Appalachian Chronicle is on Facebook

On Twitter: @appchronicle

Related Articles:

Interview with Bob Henry Baber

Inside Flooded Richwood, West Virginia

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