One year later: Remembering the 23 killed in the June 2016 flood

23 people were killed in the June 2016 floods in West Virginia. One year later, the lives have not been forgotten. (WCHS/WVAH)

One year ago, 23 lives were taken too soon in the devastating floods that ravaged West Virginia.

In Greenbrier County, 15 people died, six died in Kanawha County, one in Jackson County and one in Ohio County. The victim’s ages ranged from 4 to 93 years old.

Some faces, we've never seen, their stories untold. But they haven't been forgotten by those who loved them.

Melissa “Lesa” Hess was one of the 23 people killed in the flood. She stayed on the phone with 911 dispatchers as she was trapped inside her vehicle that was in the floodwater. Her loved ones hope she is remembered for as the wonderful woman she was.

"It’s just hard to lose your mom, especially when she raised you on her own,” Savannah Jones, Hess’ daughter, said.

Sitting in one of her mom’s favorite spots, Venture Lanes in Saint Albans, Jones still can’t get the day out of her mind.

"It was horrible," Jones said.

On June 23, 2016, it rained like it would never stop in several counties. Rivers and creeks quickly overflowed, water filled homes and took over roadways, ruining memories and taking loved ones’ lives.

"It's been a tough year without her,” Jones said.

Hess loved bowling, reading, spending time with family, friends and her dog. And helping others.

"If she had $5 in her pocket and you needed it, she'd give it to you,” Hess’ coworker and friend Jodie Ferrell said.

"She always liked to laugh and she always had a smile on her face,” another coworker and friend, Jill Daniels, said.

On the day of the flood, Hess left work at Thomas Memorial Physical Therapy early and was less than a mile away from home along Wills Creek in Elkview when she experienced the unimaginable.

"I was at work when I got the call from her that she was trapped in her car, I only talked to her for a few minutes and she said she was scared, I told her to get off the phone with me and call for help and that was the last time I heard from her,” Jones said.

911 dispatchers stayed on the phone with her for about 30 minutes, unable to reach her as the floodwater rose. Dispatchers heard her scream until the line went dead.

Jones said a police officer told her that her mom had been rescued. She went searching for her and got stuck at the Crossings Mall in Elkview, where a bridge washed out, leaving dozens of people stranded.

More than 8 hours later, she learned her mother was gone.

"I was in shock basically, not really denial but I didn't want it to be true and I couldn't have went through it without my boyfriend's help,” Jones said.

Hess’ coworkers said they are still heartbroken.

"The hardest part was the way she passed. She was tough but we know she was scared. We hated that they couldn't save her. Lesa was one in a million,” Ferrell said.

"It was devastating, I mean I couldn't believe what I was reading and I thought this really can't be true,” Daniels said.

Jones now has a 3-month old son and wishes her mom could meet her grandchild.

"I just hope to be as good of a mom as she was,” Jones said.

She said she’s learned its important to cherish moments with family.

"I think about her everyday especially when I bowl, she was a good bowler. We were more like sisters than mother and daughter,” Jones said with a smile.

And make sure to spend time with them.

"I didn’t see her at all that day and I just always remember wishing I got out of bed and went down to see her before she went to work," Jones said. "I just want them to remember how energetic and how happy of a person she was and just how great she was."

Hess’ friends from work said they always think of her.

"It’s still really hard. Hardly a week goes by that my coworkers and I say ‘oh, Lesa would have said this’ or ‘Lesa would have done this.’ We just miss her so much still, even a year later,” Daniels said.

Overtime, they became more than coworkers. They became family.

"She was more than just a coworker, she was our friend, we loved her and we still love her. When we think about it it hurts us, it hurts us every day and Jill and I talk about her frequently because we don't want to forget her. She was a great person to know and I feel blessed that I had her in my life for the three years that I did," Ferrell said.

No matter how much time goes by, the rain won't stop in the hearts of those who loved her, but the memories of Lesa Hess will never be swept away.

Savannah, her boyfriend and two other friends are going to get a tattoo on June 23, the anniversary of the flood, as a reminder of her mother. It will be an outline of West Virginia with a bowling pin and her initials.

Joni Adams, a retired South Charleston Middle School teacher and avid runner also lost her life the day of the floods.

Her loved ones said they will never forget when they heard the news.

"Devastated, devastated, not just for me but for anyone that ever knew her,” Adams’ good friend, Corlyn Debord said.

Adams ran the Charleston Distance Run for Decades. She loved teaching and helping the community.

She's been honored in many ways including a 5K race called "Miles for Joni," a memorial walk at the middle school and a walking trail was dedicated to her at the Kanawha Charleston Humane Association.

Adams' good friend, Sandy Boswell, died alongside her that day. They were in Adams' basement in Elkview trying to save some belongings as floodwaters rose too fast to escape.

Debord worked with Adams at the middle school and was supposed to have lunch with her the day of the floods, but she never showed up.

Debord said Adams was passionate about everything she did and hopes the memory of her will never fade.

"I would hope that we would continue talking about her and making people aware of what a wonderful person she was, and just continuing to do things that she would have done. I try in my classroom to think of things that she would have done, things that would make her proud,” Debord said.

Debord said South Charleston Middle School will continue to hold the memorial walk in honor of Adams every spring.

Our thoughts are with all of those who lost loved ones, one year ago in the West Virginia floods.

Here are all of those who lost their lives in the flood:

Emanuel Javon Williams, 8, Ohio County

Billy Eugene Sanders Sr., 62, Kanawha County

Natasha Danielle LeMaster, 20, Kanawha County

Melissa “Lesa” Renee Hess, 46, Kanawha County

Eduardo Thomas McMillion, 4, Jackson County

Denver Leslie Barker, 93, Greenbrier County

I. Edward “Budgie” Thompson, 85, Greenbrier County

Gary Keith Shumaker, 82, Greenbrier County

Charles Omechinski II, 63, Greenbrier County

Okey Williams Moffatt Jr., 74, Kanawha County

Joni Melinda Adams, 60, Kanawha County

Sandra Lee Boswell, 57, Kanawha County

Nellie Virginia Hinkle, 80, Greenbrier County

Delmas Parsons, 70, Greenbrier County

Dakota Scott Stone, 16, Greenbrier County

Raymond Edward Clark Jr., 60, Greenbrier County

Melissa Dale Deichert, 60, Greenbrier County

Hershel Lee Nicely, 68, Greenbrier County

Marguerite Parsons, 67, Greenbrier County

Belinda Gail Scott, 54, Greenbrier County

Lisa Gaye Goins Blankenship, 44, Greenbrier County

Nataysha Nicely, 32, Greenbrier County

Mykala Cheyenne Phillips, 14, Greenbrier County

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