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Locals Provide Disaster Assist After West Virginia Floods Kill At Least 24


At least 24 people are confirmed dead. Thousands are still without power and water after severe flooding devastated several West Virginia towns on Thursday. Forty-four counties are still under a state of emergency. Kara Lofton with West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

KARA LOFTON, BYLINE: Marsha Larch lived in the same Clendenin, W. Va., home for 50 years, ever since she got married at the age of 16.

MARSHA LARCH: And I've never seen water like this before in my life.

LOFTON: Larch stands on what used to be her back deck, looking out onto the river at least 35 feet below. On the night of the flood, Larch fled to higher ground in her camper as water rushed into her home.

LOFTON: By the time the water receded more than a day later, stinking mud covered the surface of everything - recycling, furniture and even clothes that had washed out from the living room inside.

LARCH: I didn't have no flood insurance because they always told us, you know, it never comes this way, so...

LOFTON: She leans over the deck and points at a support pole sliding slowly toward the river in the thick mud. It's just a matter of time, she says, before the whole house collapses onto the bank.

So you're just abandoning the home.

LARCH: I'm abandoning it. I can't do nothing, you know (laughter). You're retired, you can't, you know - I worked for 36 years for the power company and I retired and worked on my home and got it all ready and now it's gone.

LOFTON: Drive down Larch's street and you'll see that she is not the only one who has lost everything. Piles of mud-encrusted furniture litter front lawns like some kind of perverse yard sale.

LESS MITCH: You'll go from what looks to be normal, everyday houses just fine to complete destruction, just foundations left with nothing but mud.

LOFTON: That's Less Mitch of the West Virginia FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team.

MITCH: We've been doing wide area searches in the area, just looking for any individuals that may still be trapped within their structure.

LOFTON: FEMA's approved aid to three West Virginia counties Saturday. But for the past three days, most of the search and rescue and disaster relief has been provided by locals. Captain Will Hargis is with the West Virginia National Guard.

WILL HARGIS: So that was - you know, the challenge is you got folks that couldn't get out or that got injured. You know, we're still trying to find a way with first responders, us backing them up. You know, just trying to find a way to get to people, but it was just water everywhere.

LOFTON: He points at a stop sign they used to gauge whether the guard's low medium tactical vehicles could clear the rising water. They couldn't. He says they ended up using swift water rescue crews to access those trapped by the flood. Others were pulled from their homes by neighbors like Joe Snider who got folks out using fishing boats.

JOE SNIDER: Well, I got Betty Blackwell out, but I could carry her out. It wasn't as deep and this was deeper, and I had to put them in a boat and bring them.

LOFTON: Most of the water began to recede Saturday morning. Now, all that's left is a coating of mud that smells strongly of feces from overflowed sewer lines. Marsha Larch says she holds out hope that FEMA will help her rebuild her home. She says she had just finished renovations that she looked forward to enjoying in retirement.

LARCH: But, you know, things happen.

LOFTON: In the meantime, she says, she will take the camper, what she can salvage from her home and relocate. For NPR News, I'm Kara Lofton in Clendenin, W. Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kara Lofton is a photojournalist based in Harrisonburg, VA. She is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and has been published by EMU, Sojourners Magazine, and The Mennonite. Her reporting for WMRA is her radio debut.