The Minden Flood

On Sunday, 8 July 2001, central West Virginia started being pummeled by thunderstorms in the pre-dawn morning. I was staying at the ACE Adventure Center near Oak Hill for the Tenth Annual Right Coast Ride motorcycle event. I'd intended to leave by 8am, but because of delays caused by the rains didn't actually depart the campground until 8:40am. That made all the difference between getting out to the main road and being trapped in the flooded town of Minden for nearly seven hours. I took many pictures while there, which are spread across four pages in groups of twenty pictures each, as linked below. (The links are not especially related to the flow of the narrative; I just had to throw something up now and will make it better later when I have time in a couple of weeks.)

Minden used to be a prosperous coal mining town, but when the mine went out in the early 60s, the town declined and life there is hard, by the accounts I heard from its residents as we all weathered the deluge. No help at all was forthcoming from the outside world, both because the outside world had its hands full with widespread flooding in general, and because emergency vehicles that did try to reach Minden were hampered by mudslides and washouts on every access road. One man commented, "Once again, folks in Minden have to just do for themselves."

Picture Page 1

I found a safe parking spot for the duration of the flood (after first trying one that was not quite so safe). It was across the street from a house that flooded to a foot above the door sill. The older man who lived there told me he'd been living there for 35 years and, "I ain't never seen it this bad." From his account, the flood waters were at least three feet higher than he's seen there.

Men in town struggled against the swift current in their rowboats trying to get people out of their homes. One drama that happened near me involved rescuing a family of seven people. First the mother came out with her three young children. None of the children knew how to swim, but the two older kids (5 and 12 years old) were fitted with life vests before all four boarded the row boat. The youngest, who had just turned three years old, was held tightly by the mother. The row boat flipped and chaos ensued. A dozen men ran alongside the floodwater and plunged in ahead of the children. The mother made it out safely with the youngest first, and I tried to comfort her and reassure her that her kids were still afloat and there were many men doing everything the could to get them. Finally the people in the water managed to snag the middle child and then the oldest. They were taken to a nearby house for dry clothing and comfort. I later learned that the daughter suffered a hairline fracture in her leg from the boat flipping.

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The father, grandfather and grandmother were still back in the house. The grandmother presented the greatest challenge; she was a large woman, wheelchair bound, and needed oxygen. For a while the rescuers tried to free a motor boat that had drifted down to the area, but it was still attached to its trailer and before they could dislodge it, the boat sank. They eventually got a row boat up there again and got her into it, and everyone was safely out of the house.

I was especially impressed with how well the people in town worked together to solve the many problems they were facing. Tensions were high, but never once did I see tempers flare. No one person seemed to be in charge, it was just a continuous cooperative effort.

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At around 2:30 the waters had receded enough that I was able to cross the bridge that could get me on the high road back to the campground, where I expected to find three dozen of the riders I'd left ahead of in the morning. I was quite surprised to find none of them there. Checking at the office, I found that the Wonderland Road out the back of the Mountaintop camping area had been graded and was open to travel. Relieved that my group was able to make it out, I followed the same route and drove through the afternoon and evening until I finally reached my hotel in Syracuse, NY, at 12:30am. It was quite a day.

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Incidentally, for those who are unaware of my condition, I only took these photographs because it would have been completely foolish for me to attempt to provide any aid in the water myself. Many times I had to fight back the urge to rush in. My left leg is partially paralyzed and I would not have been able to maintain myself against the swift currents of the water; I surely would have been more of a hindrance than a help.

One news story about the flood is online at the site for Beckley's newspaper, The Register Herald. There are many more stories there.


Last modified: Tuesday, 08-Jan-2002 17:56:02 UTC