Photos by BobGates Nancy McVey was standing on her deck at about 9:30 Sunday morning, July 8, when she turned around and looked at the curb and water came like an ocean, ripping out a five-foot fence. "I just came into the house and prayed, Lord don't let this happen," she said five days later. "It was like an ocean coming. I looked over and there was a house coming down the river. It was the worst disaster I've ever seen, and I've been here my entire life."
The flood destroyed the entire downstairs of her house in Walhunda Village on Clear Fork, near Dorothy. In minutes, mud swept across her large, decorative living room and destroyed what she had spent 17 years building. "I will never get back this stuff," she said.
She described water coming like a NASCAR racer. "This water was jumping fences. I can't believe how fast the water came," she said. "I still say this was an impoundment...All because of mountaintop removal and sediment ponds, and nobody is taking our word."
Photos by Bob Gates
The area near Dorothy was one of the worst hit in the floods. And McVey and many others blame the Princess Beverly mountaintop removal mine. This time, even DEP agrees, at least enough to issue violations for failure of the sediment pond structure. DEP inspectors found that rocks from the valley fill slid into the sediment pond and caused substantial erosion. A Princess Beverly spokesman denied any connection with the flood and blamed the 5 inches of rain.
Several residents have gone up to the valley fill before and after the flood. They shared photos with Bob Gates when he visited on Friday, July 13. Photos taken last fall show the pond already full of rocks washed off the valley fill. Other photos taken after the flood show large expanses of rocks washed out of the fill. One man pointed out that the rocks had sharp edges because they had been broken out of the mountain from the blasting and placed in the fills.
"I grant you we got a lot of rain, but did it rain all at once in a big pile?" Jackie Stover said. "Six months ago we told them there was a little rain and we got a foot of water come down the road. We knew what was going to happen. When they quit blasting back there last year was when the water started coming." Stover showed photos of the liner from a pond wrapped around a tree. "There's a good one: rocks down into the forest." He threw the photos down and said: "There's the proof. But in the paper they say they don't do that stuff."
Bob Gates photographed the mine from a helicopter about six weeks after the flood. He found that the fill had partially collapsed down the hill and into the pond, just as portrayed in Stover's photos. The top photo shows the beginning of the slide at the top of the fill. In the bottom photo, the mud slide travels through the woods adjacent to the fill, looking much like the molten flow from a volcano.
Photos by Bob Gates
Jackie Toney was fishing in Greenbriar County the morning of the flood. He called to check and the news came in pieces. First he heard his house had been damaged; then the news got worse. When he came home, his house was gone, washed away, everything. "Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine." In the days after the flood, he walked several miles down the river searching for his belongings. He found about 60 photos, not all his. He picked them up anyway and hoped to find the owners.
Bob Gates asked him what kinds of changes had he seen since the mining began. "Man, whenever it rained it was worse than before," he said. "Not just sand and slurry from the ponds, but rocks. When they was shooting right back there, it would jar the houses. When water runs out, the shot rock just starts tumbling down the mountain."