It is a proud town, a town that was trying, a town tucked in the tippy toe of West Virginia. Anawalt has a cross roads where County Route 84 from Leckie to the northeast joins County Route 8, going south to Jenkinjones. There is a massive, tall brick building on the corner, once a busy store, and more recently a beauty parlor and junk store. It is the kind of ancient scene that could entice a tourist to stay awhile, ask some questions and snap some photos. Maybe even spend some money.
On the opposite bank of Little Creek stands another once stately yellow stone building. More recently it found a new purpose: the Town Hall. Mayor Eva Sue Rash organized hot dog sales and coin bucket brigades and raised the money to move the official records into more suitable surroundings. Little did she know her dream building would be put to a more urgent, perhaps higher purpose.
Photo by Eva Sue Rash
On Sunday morning, July 8, the waters rushed down Little Creek from the mountains above Leckie, came with more force than anyone remembers. Rivers from the mountains created themselves in an instant. By the time, that water joined Tug Fork from Jenkinjones, right in front of the Town Hall, the force was like ocean waves. Houses below the bridge were swept away; whole communities disappeared, new Jim Walters homes were flipped aside like matchstick buildings. Anawalt became one of the most devastated communities in southern West Virginia. For weeks, the National Guard, Red Cross and FEMA set up their offices in the town hall and mobile units nearby.
A house just below Anawalt on July 8 Photo by Amanda Heffinger
Betty Parish was watching the waters rise from her home above Leckie. She grabbed her video camera, thinking this was something she needed to document for posterity. Her own home was safe, she thought. It was perched on a hillside, 100 feet above the road and the creek. She aimed the camera down at the creek. "Now the water is out of the creek," she exclaimed. The water was indeed over the banks and over the road. The fate of the garage across the road looked doubtful. Somehow it survived. One goat was rescued, too, though several of its companions drowned. A neighbor can be seen on the video clutching the goat's collar and leading it to dry land.
Later in the day, Betty's husband, Danny, drove her down to film closer to Anawalt. She is heard exclaiming in shock. But when she reached Anawalt, the film ends abruptly. "I had to stop, I was crying," she said.
Shortly after the rain ended, Betty went next door to film at the home of her 83-year-old neighbor, Bessie Presley. She came upon an astounding sight: Tons of rocks had tumbled off the mountainside and onto the steep lawn behind her house, and more had landed in a three-foot-high jumble alongside the house. Only luck--and Bessie's prayers--had kept them out of the house. The water and rocks had cut a four-foot deep gully behind the house.
A week or so later, Bessie's son walked up the mountain to see what caused the washout. He found a recent timber job. Three weeks later, Betty and Danny drove up and also found the timbering site. She added it to her video.
During the flood, Danny had noticed that a river ran off the mountain on the other side of the valley from his house. It was a place that he had never seen run off. It was also another place that had been recently timbered. Timbering is on the rise in southern McDowell County. Just months before the flood, a new job went in on a hillside just above the road between Leckie and Anawalt. Bulldozers cut a road straight up the mountain, a rutted brown scrape. During the flood, the loose earth washed out and over the road into the stream. After the flood, the equipment just sat at the bottom of the hill.
John Wilson lives about a mile and a half below the Parishes, on the way to Anawalt. He had worked in the deep mines but had been injured in the 1950s. He went out west and worked in the copper mines, did a bit of sales work in Texas, before finally retiring to Leckie with his 10-year-old son, Anthony. They live a bit of the bachelor life, which drives their friend Charlie Sizemore crazy. He comes over from his home in Rock and stays busy mopping and vacuuming. Anthony is an unusually bright and mature boy. He recently scored in the top 10 in the state on the SAT achievement tests and also makes straight A's in school.
Anthony and Jessee
John and Charlie prowl the hills of southern McDowell County searching for ginseng and other valuable herbs. They see the timbering that is hidden from those who are content to stick to paved roads. They blame both the timbering and old deep mines--which fill with water that discharges constantly.
On Monday, July 30, John took Bob and I up to see the timbering above Bessie Presley's house. We followed Danny's directions and turned on a gas well road about halfway up the mountain to Maybeury. About every 1000 feet, John pointed out seepage from an old deep mine. Only someone who had worked those mines nearly 50 years ago would have known what to look for. But sure enough, there was water running out of the hill on our right, across the road and down the mountain. In one place, there was even a pile of old coal. John also pointed out something we had not considered. During the wildcat days of strip mining in the 1960s and early 1970s, bulldozers had scraped earth off of the mountains to expose the coal seams. That earth was dumped down the hills and made them steeper than normal.
After about 45 minutes, we finally found the first evidence of timbering. A new haul road had been cut down the mountain. Again, the loose tan earth had eroded and washed down the hill. But Danny had said there would be a staging area for logs. We hadn't found that. John was convinced it would be around the next corner, or the next, or the.... After another half an hour of bumping along in the jeep, success--and just as both Bob and I were sure we should turn around.
On the hillside below, there were four or five haul roads cut. Not necessary, just laziness, John said. The roads had eroded. Only small trees remained, since the good ones had been hauled away. We went just a little further and found another small timbering site. Fewer roads, but the same sparse forestation.
The rains had come again the day before, July 29. Betty Parish had grabbed her video camera again. Not as bad this time, but she did get good footage of the mud coming out of the timbering job close to the road. A newly installed bridge was washed away again. The Town Hall was spared this time, too. Inside Mayor Rash would be dreaming up ways to revive her town.