Special Report: Families working to recover from historic June flooding

Along the banks of the Elk River Clay County homeowner Pam Street trekked through the rough path that was once her front yard.

“My house floated completely off of the foundation,” Street said. “The water was completely above my house.”

Seven months have passed since the June flood swept her house away. The first four months she acknowledges she did not seek recovery for herself. Street joined the Greater Clay Long-Term Recovery Committee, and she spent her time trying to help other people affected by the flood.

“I tried to get through my grief by helping other people. It made me forget about my own problem. After more than four months, I realized I needed to do something to help myself,” she said.

Soon after trying to find resources for her family, Street said, she learned The Greater Clay Long-Term Recovery Committee was cautioned not to use resources to help committee members. She resigned from the committee in hopes of obtaining more resources. She said, however, she has not received the help she was hoping to get.

“People think here in West Virginia we are OK now. We are not. We have not begun to recover. Some people are just starting. Unless you have been through a disaster, you have no clue the frustration that you go through,” Street said.

As the seasons changed in Southern West Virginia, so did the volunteer work and donations. Areas such as Clay County were filled with helping hands from across the country. The help has dwindled away.

Executive Director of the Greater Kanawha Long Term Recovery Committee Mike Shinn said long-term groups are working across the state to send out resources to families. The full recovery efforts for Clay, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas and Roane counties are expected to take years. Shinn has watched the help fade away over the last few months. He said currently they are in desperate need of volunteers.

“Volunteers are the only hope some of these families have,” Shinn said. “We need volunteers to come back and get involved with this process. We have something for you to do no matter what your skill level is. There is a position for you. There is something you can do to help a family.”

Just a few miles away in Clendenin, there is a different story with the same frustrations. Joretta Gray and her family are currently living in a camper powered by a generator behind her flooded home.

“Where is all of the help they said was coming?” Gray said. “Since August or September, we have had no contact with anyone that we have applied with. You sit here day after day and wait for someone to call or knock on your door and it never happens.”

Gray said if it were not for the good -hearted volunteers who have brought her supplies to get by she would not have anything seven months after the flood. She said volunteers have brought her family firewood, furniture, a wood and coal stove and kitchen supplies. She set up a makeshift kitchen inside the flooded home where she cooks on a grill for her family every night.

“I do everything I can to fill my day and try to get by. If you are not dead tired at the end of the day, you can’t go to sleep. All you hear is the water. It was four steps from the top floor of my house,” she said.

Gray said she is currently waiting on a case worker to be assigned to her family.

Over the past seven months, monetary donations from across the country were given to the counties most affected by June’s flooding.

West Virginia native and Save the Children Ambassador Jennifer Garner helped raise a total of $1.3 million for the West Virginia flood response.

Officials with the nonprofit Save the Children launched a program called “Journey of Hope” in Clay, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas and Roane counties. “Journey of Hope” was founded by Save the Children in 2007 after Hurricane Katrina. The goal is to help children cope with traumatic events and gain access to proper care and education. Since June 2016, Save the Children reached more than 55,000 children and caregivers by donating thousands of books and classroom materials to those affected West Virginia counties. Save the Children officials also said they partnered with Kanawha County to reopen six pre-K classrooms. Program leaders have a goal to serve at least 800 children across 18 West Virginia schools through June 2017.

West Virginia broadcasters raised a total of $334,711 during their Rebuild West Virginia two-hour telethon July 1, 2016. Frank Brady, vice president and general manager of WVVA TV in Bluefield, said they decided to donate all funds to the West Virginia Red Cross to ensure the donations went to families affected in state. Red Cross Regional Communications Officer Krista Farley Raines provided Eyewitness News with the following breakdown of total expenditures for West Virginia flood relief.

Through the end of 2016, the Red Cross spent about $5.78 million on flood relief efforts in West Virginia. About $3.7 million or 65 percent was for food, shelter and relief items. More than $1.6 million or 29 percent was for individual emergency assistance and recovery. Meanwhile, about $315,000 or 5.4 percent was for health and emotional support, and $15,000 or 0.3 percent was for community recovery, which support initiatives to help communities meet specific, disaster-caused needs.

Shortly after the flood, West Virginia native and country music star Brad Paisley started a GoFundMe account with $100,000 of his own money. Since June, the funds from the account have reached more than $690,000.

The Brad Paisley Foundation provided Eyewitness News with the following breakdown of funds committed to affected areas.

Clay County:

$65,000, the Greater Clay Long Term Recovery Committee for heating, ventilating and air conditioning repair.

Nicholas County:

$68,800, the United Way of Southern West Virginia to support repairs to heating, ventilating and air conditioning in Nicholas County.

$5,000, Birch River Distribution Center to fund it for 10 months.

Greenbrier County:

$25,000, the Greater Greenbrier County Long Term Recovery Committee to fund repairs for heating, ventilating and air-conditioning.

Kanawha County:

$25,000, Hands on West Virginia which benefits Kanawha County for HVAC construction.

The remaining funds were given to West Virginia nonprofits assisting the flood recovery efforts. Of those funds, $200,000 was given to the Greenbrier County based nonprofit group Neighbors Loving Neighbors, and $250,000 is committed to Homes for West Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding communities devastated by the 2016 flooding.

The Brad Paisley Foundation is currently holding the remaining $51,742 for any other recovery needs across West Virginia.

Leaders starting the next phase in the West Virginia flood recovery process are calling for volunteers to get involved. To volunteer in your area, contact a long-term recovery committee in your county. Below is a list of online information and phone numbers for local groups committed to long-term recovery in West Virginia:

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