VERDUNVILLE — The Federal Emergency Management Agency honored the Verdunville Volunteer Fire Department on Monday for its service in helping victims of the March 15 flash flood.
FEMA Federal Coordinator Deanne Criswell and Public Relations Director Frank Blake were on hand to present an award of thanks to Verdunville VFD Chief Wendell Hunter, his wife, Elissia, and fireman Jonathan Butcher in the bay of the VFD station on Monday.
“We are here to recognize the Verdunville Volunteer Fire Department for allowing us to use their facility as a disaster recovery center that allowed the people who were impacted by the March 15 flooding to come and talk to FEMA representatives, to talk to the Small Business Administration, to talk to state representatives and to talk to some of the volunteer agencies who were here, as well, to help them with their recovery efforts,” Criswell said. “Once they registered with FEMA, this gave them a voice to come and talk to.”
Criswell said the VFD station was critical to FEMA’s recovery efforts.
“This place was absolutely critical. It’s centrally-located and it was right in an area that was impacted, which meant that a lot of people were going to come to the recovery center,” Criswell said. “We try very hard to make it as easy as possible for those who have been impacted by the disaster to have a place that is accessible and easy for them to come to get the help that they need. It was also close enough to neighboring counties like Mingo, so they could come across and get some advice and talk to FEMA representatives.”
There were five disaster recovery centers open because of flash flooding during the month of March in different counties, including Logan County. The Verdunville DRC saw the most people come in for help, Criswell said.
“This was the busiest, with 761 visits and there were 636 registrations,” Criswell said. “We send out a lot of confusing stuff, so this gives them a face they can talk to.”
Criswell said the community really banded together to recover from the flooding.
“FEMA is just a very small part of the team and it took the help of the local community, the volunteers of Logan County and the Verdunville Church of God that provided meals in order to help people recover from events like this,” Criswell said. “Without the help of everybody here in Logan County, we would never have been able to do this.”
On the morning of March 15, a torrential downpour dumped several inches of rain on the Logan County communities of Mud Fork, Verdunville, Coal Branch and Mount Gay that caused severe flash flooding.
Nearly 300 homes and businesses were damaged by the flooding and more than 1,000 people affected. School children at Verdunville Elementary School were trapped inside for several hours until waters rescinded. Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s Allied Health building was also flooded and the school suffered more than $1 million in flood damage.
Within days, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin had gotten a federal disaster declaration for the affected areas and FEMA opened a disaster recovery center at the Verdunville Volunteer Fire Department just nine days after the flash flood.
Chief Hunter said he wanted to make sure everyone got the help they needed and the fire station just seemed a logical choice for a disaster recovery center.
“Our community was the hardest hit, so I knew it needed to be done,” Hunter said. “They used three of our bays for the DRC and it stayed busy until it closed. We even had people come and knock on our door after hours. We enjoyed having them here. We got to hear a lot of interesting stories from them. But, it was hard watching the families come in and tell their stories to the FEMA representatives.”
The Verdunville DRC was the last of the five to close. Criswell said FEMA has already given out $2.2 million in grants to homeowners and renters in Logan County who were affected by the flash flood.
Butcher said it took a team effort to provide flood recovery to the victims.
“I want to thank the fire departments of Henlawson, Lake, Sharples, Harts in Logan County, Harts in Lincoln County, Cora, Main Island Creek, Buffalo Creek and the Town of Man for helping during the flood,” Butcher said. “I also want to thank all the local restaurants and the Verdunville Church of God, who provided food for the fire fighters, the victims and the volunteers.”
Criswell also praised the volunteer efforts.
“The volunteers were awesome,” Criswell said. “It took the whole community to do all this.”