by Vicki Smith
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KINCAID -- The "yard sale" sign atop the pile of mud-caked furniture in Sonja Wolfe's driveway is an attempt to find humor in the flood that washed away her first floor and sent her disabled, 40-year-old son to the hospital in respiratory distress.
It's also a sarcastic message to the dozens of people who have driven up state Route 61 since Sunday, gawking and snapping pictures of the cars wedged in the trees, the tangled piles of debris, the seemingly endless stretch of mud along Loup Creek.
No one stopped to help. No one brought safe drinking water. Instead, the passers-by rummaged through the wreckage of other people's lives, scavenging for souvenirs.
"We thought if they'd do that, they'd be dumb enough to take this stuff," Wolfe's daughter, Missy Richards, said Tuesday as the family sat on the front porch.
It was a similar story a few miles down the road, where Bill Waddell stood in smelly muck near what used to be his three-bedroom home. Half still sits on its concrete foundation, the back wall caved in. The other half, a pile of broken boards, twisted siding and disintegrated insulation, sits at a bend in the creek, wedged against a wooden footbridge and a tree.
Waddell waved as a driver pulled over, shot a few frames and moved on.
Waddell lost a miniature Doberman pinscher to the floods that have devastated parts of southern West Virginia, but he and his wife avoided harm by rising early and going to breakfast at a relative's house Sunday.
Fast-falling rain turned the creek into a river nearly 20 feet higher than normal, and when the Waddells came home two hours later, the house was gone. The newly renovated living room, the family photos and everything else had vanished.
Across Fayette County, some 500 homes were destroyed. Farther south in Wyoming County, about 75 percent of the businesses were damaged. Some 3,500 homes in the region were trashed by water or mudslides.
So far, damage is estimated at more than $20 million statewide, a number that is expected to rise. Eight counties were declared federal disaster areas Tuesday, but details remained sketchy because so many small towns were cut off by washed out roads.
Approximately 105 roads were still closed Tuesday night, the state Division of Highways reported.
National Park Service rangers in Thurmond retrieved seven people from the isolated community of Thayer. Another 10 walked several miles down a railroad track to safety, ranger Audie Critchley said.
Most West Virginians who live along creeks and rivers have no flood insurance.
People like Wolfe and Waddell might get low-interest loans from the federal government to rebuild, but both families are retired and elderly, with limited income.
"We'll make it somehow," Waddell said. "We've got to rebuild. It's just going to be a lot of hard work."
Until then, the couple and their grandson will move into a house their minister offered them. That's typical of the small-town cooperation that Fayette County residents are relying on.
Wolfe's only relief has come from volunteer firefighters and a church group. She has no water, like thousands of others, so she's staying with family. Her son, Brian Carper, remains in the intensive care unit of an Oak Hill hospital.
Carper is disabled by muscular dystrophy and lives on the ground level of Wolfe's red brick home, within feet of the creek bank. If Wolfe's other son hadn't called Sunday morning to warn of the rising waters, Carper might have died in his wheelchair.
"I have never seen such a sight," Wolfe said. "I've lived here 25 years and I've never seen the water leave its banks."
Richards said her brother "is in better spirits than the rest of us because he knows how close he came."
"Everything my brother had is gone. His whole life was here in these rooms," she said, walking through wet, empty spaces that had four inches of mud when the waters finally receded. The furniture and electronics -- Carper's sole source of comfort and entertainment -- have disappeared.
"My mother is on a fixed income. I don't know what they're going to do," Richards said. "They worked hard all their lives to have this, and now it's gone, and there's no money to replace it."
One woman died in the weekend floods. Her name has not been released.
The body of Roger Ogle of Bramwell also was discovered in the Bluestone River Tuesday evening, about a half-mile from his home. Ogle was seen earlier in the day, so he was definitely not a victim of the flood, said Robert Youther, assistant chief of the Bluefield Rescue Squad. His death is under investigation.
Meanwhile, emergency crews in Mercer County were searching for a missing man in the Spanishburg area. The search was suspended late Tuesday and expected to resume Wednesday.
In Glen Jean and other washed-out communities, people were grateful to have escaped with their lives. Even as they stared numbly at sagging, collapsed or mud-filled homes, many praised God for sending the water during daylight hours.
Mark Hurt left the house with his parents, the three linked at the elbows to avoid being swept away in chest-deep water. Ankle-deep water still sat in their yard Tuesday.
"We lost everything except a couch we got up on scaffolding. That's the only thing we could get done. Then we had to get out before we drowned," he said.
William Hurt, who at age 70 has seen his home fill with water once before, set photo albums on a table to air out, hoping something can be salvaged. His wife, Janet, was too upset to help with the cleanup, but she's already decided they will start anew on the house that had fresh carpets, a new roof and recently painted siding.
"She said, 'I'm not leaving here. It's home,"' Hurt said. "We'll just clean up and pray it doesn't happen again."