HUNTINGTON — As Huntington residents and others continue to clean up Friday’s historic flooding, local and state officials have come together to hear their stories and ask what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
The city of Huntington, along with Cabell and Putnam counties, declared a state of emergency after a flash flood swept through the area on Friday, May 6, when nearly 4.5 inches of rain fell in the southern part of the city and its surroundings in a few hours.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice met with Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and other state and county officials on Monday and toured the hardest-hit areas.
As assessments begin to determine whether victims will have access to federal assistance through FEMA, officials said they are dedicated to finding a solution to prevent another weather event “once a generation” does not happen again.
While the average monthly amount of precipitation for the city of Huntington is about 3.5 inches, about 4.5 inches fell in just a few hours Friday morning, with the heaviest flow hitting the south side of Huntington and the south of Cabell County.
Some Southside neighbors wondered if recently installed underpass pumps on 8th and 10th Streets contributed to the incident. City communications director Bryan Chambers said the underpasses pump water to Fourpole Creek near the fountain via an underused concrete pipe built in the 1970s.
Pumps can peak at 1,400 to 1,600 gallons pumped per minute. The chamber said that at capacity, the underpasses can bring about 7.13 cubic feet of water per second into Fourpole Creek, but the creek is measured to hold 1 cubic foot of water per second, or 449 gallons. He thinks the water from the underpasses only contributed less than a hundredth of a percent to the stream.
Instead, officials point to the massive size of the Fourpole Creek watershed that feeds Fourpole Creek in Huntington, which covers more than 23 square miles — twice the size of Huntington’s city limits. The watershed contains dozens of small creeks and waterways in southern Cabell and Wayne counties, which eventually empty into the Ohio River in the West End.
People outside the city limits of Huntington were also affected. Justice also met with workers from Wooten Machine Co. and the Green Valley Road Volunteer Fire Department on Norwood Road off W.Va. 10, an area with a level of flooding never seen in history. recent.
The Machine Shop is near Grapevine Branch, which eventually empties into Fourpole Creek on one side and sees drainage issues along Norwood Road on the other. Friday’s downpour caused a backflow of water, which flooded the area.
Merle Wooten said the water was several feet high in some places around the store. A number of their machines and equipment are a total loss. Without flood insurance, Wooten wonders what the future holds.
“I hope it’s the truth, because my generation is almost finished,” he said of the so-called “once in a generation” flood.
Aaron Fairburn, pastor of the Bible Apostolic Church, also located along W.Va. 10 near Grapevine Branch, also took his grievances to the governor, saying his church was affected more than during the 2016 floods. Fairburn asked if the floodplain areas needed to be reassessed.
10 victims believe that water reaching the Huntington city limits takes a long time to flow into the Ohio River, causing backflow in southern parts of the county.
Assess the damage
Williams said the city is aware of more than 100 flood-affected homes, but he believes the number is much higher. Within the city limits, flooding affected homes from Kinetic Park along Hal Greer Boulevard to West 7th Street, about 25 blocks away, he said, with some homes impacted in two blocks from the creek.
Justice said it was devastating to drive through neighborhoods and see everyone’s belongings piled up in trash bags along the streets. He compared the situation to the 2016 floods that affected central and eastern West Virginia, where flash flooding in troughs left thousands homeless and several dead.
“There’s heartache everywhere, but we can address it, and now is the time,” he said.
Williams applauded the residents of Huntington for coming out and helping their neighbors.
Williams referenced a 5-day-old baby who had to be rescued from her home by neighbors amid flooding on Friday. While assessing the damage over the weekend, Williams said he also saw members of the community come to help clean up.
“That’s how West Virginia is,” he said. “We take care of each other.”
“Once in a generation”…again
As the community focuses on cleanup, Williams said officials are also assessing the area to determine what needs to be done in the near and distant future to address the effects of the flooding and prevent future flooding.
“It’s too early to plan, but understand that when we’re in these operations, we’re always evaluating and evaluating what more we need to do,” he said. “What is very clear to me is that we need to have a review to determine what we need to design and what we can do to deal with something like this.”
Williams said “once in a generation” weather events happen all too often in Huntington, pointing to August 2021 flooding along 3rd Avenue and a 2016 flood in the Enslow Park neighborhood. Prior to the 2016 flood, the area had not seen this level of devastation since Memorial Day 1990, he said.
“It happens far too often, and the reality is that we have to deal with it now,” he said.
Officials said they need to assess how to get water out of the city and into the Ohio River faster. The Ohio River at Huntington peaked at around 46 feet on Monday and was at 29 feet on Friday, both numbers well below significant crests of the past 100 years.
Solutions discussed on Monday included replacing an aging pumping station and installing a flood control structure somewhere in the catchment area to control the flow of water.
Referencing a proposed flood wall approved by the West Virginia Legislature to combat flooding in the Milton area, Delegate Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said lawmakers would also do everything possible to help Huntington.
“I want to work with our federal partners in the Corps of Engineers to figure out what can be done in terms of protection and mitigation, and then try to get something through the Legislature to fund it,” he said. declared. “It’s all going to revolve around coming up with a plan and then working to get the funding.”
The waiting game
The justice said that before FEMA can help, damage assessments must reach a certain level of severity, and the state is “working like crazy” to achieve that.
One such assessment is done by the American Red Cross, which conducts door-to-door damage assessment surveys in flooded areas of Huntington. The information is forwarded to state and federal agencies for further evaluation. Anyone affected can request a damage assessment survey at 1-800-RED-CROSS, then dial 4 for disaster-related needs.
The Red Cross has about 25 volunteers and staff on the ground helping people affected by the floods by providing meals, cleaning supplies and other services. On Sunday, the Red Cross, in partnership with the Salvation Army, served nearly 250 meals and snacks in affected areas, and they again sent teams on Monday to provide lunch, dinner and cleaning kits. to people in need.
Williams said anyone with flood-related issues can call the mayor’s office at 304-696-5540 to register their home to make sure they don’t get missed. The West Virginia Division of Emergency Management said anyone in Cabell, Putnam and Roane counties who was affected by flooding can complete a FEMA Individual Assistance Program survey at bit.ly /3FvsFpV.
Until FEMA makes a decision, Williams said residents should document every step of their journey.
“What’s most important right now is that we can’t make any promises about what FEMA is going to do,” he said. “Take photos of the damaged areas. Take photos of the pile of debris. Keep any receipts you have for work that (is done). If you do these things, you will be prepared.
Elizabeth Cremeans, director of behavioral health for NECCO, said mental health services are needed now for those who have been affected.
“That’s what they’re going to need because it’s a traumatic event,” she said. “The community and the agencies are going to have to come together to provide services to people. It is equally important for their health.
Huntington Public Works crews began transporting debris and damaged household items on Monday. Residents are encouraged to pile debris where they typically place household garbage for pickup, or as close to the street as possible.
Flood cleanup kits are still available through Cabell County EMS by calling 304-526-9797. About 350 kits containing sponges, cleanser, masks and other cleaning items were distributed in three days.