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FLOODS OF 2003

                                                                           

    DINGESS                                            BOB WHITE                                                    UNEEDA          (Click on Community Name to Read More)

JUNE 15-17, 2003. This storm made selective strikes. Charleston got the national media attention with video of a Federal Express truck floating away. But my interest was in the coal field communities of Dingess in Mingo County and along Route 85 in Boone County. On June 24, Bob Gates and I set off. We would find flooded areas below hills bared by forest fires, stripped in preparation for a valley fill and simply logged.

After talking to one flood victim in Dingess who lost his house, we went to the beginning of the 10-mile-long flooded section of Route 85 in Boone County. I had met Kelly Bias nearly six years earlier when one of the largest valley fills was planned within 1,000 feet of the lovely new home she had built with her husband Donnie, a deep miner. Though the valley fill has stalled while the lawsuits proceeded through the courts, the hollow was logged two years ago in preparation for the fill. Ever since, the tiny Griffith Branch has washed out in heavy rains. We saw cut logs piled on the banks. The lower part of their lawn had been converted to a sandy beach, a delight for their two small children.

About eight miles east, past Van, we saw a wave of rocks behind a grey mobile home that reminded us of Freddie Steele in Ritter Hollow. John and Christine Gunnoe had moved out of a flood plain near Van to what they thought was higher ground. John estimated it took two hours to submerge the hollow in a quarter mile of rocks. The swath nudged a small shed behind the trailer, but fell short of the home. Yes, he told us, they had logged up the hollow. And cut logs lodged in the rocks were the evidence.

We probably wouldn’t have found Maria Gunnoe if she hadn’t called the papers and gotten a story in The Charleston Gazette that day. Her one-story rambling ranch with sky-blue vertical textured siding is tucked into the hillside above Bob White, at least 20 feet above Pond Fork, surely safe from floods. Not so, and the evidence was the 75-foot-wide, 12-foot deep crater in her yard—where Big Branch Creek had once meandered with a few inches of water. The ground in front of her garage was crumbling away each day, with less than 10 feet to the edge of the hole. The 20 acres up the hillside had been her grandfather’s, a Cherokee, and then her father’s. She has seen the valley fill creeping down the hollow, the logging nearby, as well as slides from old mining. With two brothers who are miners, “I can’t say a whole lot against mining,” she said. “But they need to step up and clean up.” Two days later she and a DEP inspector walked up to the ponds. They had overflowed, she said, but the inspector did not blame the mines since the slips were below the ponds. The Soil Conservation Agency has told her it would fill the crater and restore the stream—once the Legislature appropriates disaster funding. The coal company has offered to replace her septic system.