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by Joedy McCreary
(Friday, July 3) WEST UNION -- Irma Dotson hoped for a peaceful, quiet Sunday evening in West Union with her daughter, who was recovering from surgery, and her daughter's 5-month-old baby. Dotson's husband, Robert, was at the family campsite at Big Bear Lake in Monongalia County, so she thought things would be fine at her Sunnyside home.
She was wrong.
"At around 9 o'clock, I got a call from my neighbors," Dotson said. "They said 'Get out of here immediately! Your house is flooded!'"
At first glance, she didn't see much damage. But upon entering her basement, she found the water's force knocked out compact car-sized holes in two of its walls, and water reaching higher than 6 feet spewed into the basement.
"By the time we got back, there was no water out here," said Dotson, pointing across her flood-ravaged lawn. "But it was still in the basement. It came down as quick as it came up."
Almost as quickly, weather forecasts have changed from rainy to sunny, fostering clean-up efforts that assist those debilitated by the floods.
Six West Virginia counties Ñ Braxton, Gilmer, Jackson, Kanawha, Roane and Wood Ñ have been declared federal disaster areas, making federal funding and low-interest loans available to residents and businesses.
And in counties not eligible for federal aid yet, such as Doddridge County, the American Red Cross is working tirelessly to assist those in need.
Headquartered at the county's senior citizens' building, the Red Cross has already helped an estimated 70 families, said executive director Don Hamm. Fifteen others will receive more assistance, he said.
Costs for the aid in Doddridge County will total about $10,000, Hamm said, and the statewide bill is estimated at $1 million. But Hamm said the Red Cross isn't in danger of going into the red because of National Red Cross Disaster Fund's deep pockets.
Of prime importance to the agency is ensuring that the area's water is clean, Hamm said, and he expects "a whole load" of people without water to filter into his makeshift headquarters.
Those with a supply of water must disinfect it, state health officials said Thursday. Water supplies affected need disinfecting, with water heated to a rolling boil for five minutes before drinking, bathing or washing dishes.
The Red Cross has also distributed 15 cleanup kits, which include "everything you need to clean up" and would cost $40 in stores, Hamm said. More kits, consisting of brooms, cleaners, brushes and bleach, are on the way from Parkersburg.
But those cleanup kits won't help Dotson rebuild her basement walls.
"Where could we start?" Dotson asked. "It was chaos. Just a mess ... that wall is going to have to come out."
For now, all of her appliances have been moved from the basement into the lawn, and her backyard looks like a Sears Brand Central gone terribly awry.
Her freezer, washer, dryer, refrigerator and hot water tank were damaged by the flood. All but the washer and dryer are probably ruined, she said.
The damage wasn't isolated to her basement, though.
Two storage sheds were carried away by the high waters, leaving behind only patches of mud. Her pop-up camper floated across her property. And portions of her satellite dish suffered considerable wreckage.
Her deck survived only because all the debris underneath kept it stationary, she said.
Dotson was thankful that she was there alone. After all, her husband had already suffered one stroke and didn't need another one, she said.
"I was afraid he would have a heart attack or a stroke on the road," Dotson said.
And the cleanup efforts have taken a toll on Hamm, too.
The senior center opened as a shelter Sunday at midnight. Food orders were issued Monday and Tuesday. Emergency assistance concluded Wednesday in West Union.
"I went home Monday night and washed Ritchie County mud off my shoes," Hamm said. "I went home Tuesday night and washed Doddridge County mud off my shoes.
"These shoes have had it."