Last updated August 31, 2002.See stories about May 2, 2002 floods in McDowell County and valley fill collapse and floods in Logan County. Read a summary of the DEP study that determined mining and timbering do make flooding worse. See recommendations of Flood Protection Task Force. Learn about Disaster Recovery Board plan to rebuild Wyoming and McDowell Counties on higher ground.  Don't miss aerial photos of Princess Beverly mine near Dorothy, Arch Coal's Samples mine at the end of Seng Creek, the Vandalia mine at Scrabble Creek, a slate dump near Smithers and logging near Charlton Heights, Kimberly along Armstrong Creek, Glen Fork and Oceana. Also see new photos at the bottom of this page. (Aerial photos are large, and those pages take awhile to load--but they are worth the wait!)

2003 AND 2004 FLOODS





NEWS! Far-reaching flood-protection recommendations now ready--as well as plan for rebuilding flooded counties. Click Here.
NEWS! DEP finds mining and timbering contribute to flooding. Urges stronger controls. Click Here
   On Sunday, July 8, and again at the end of the month, the rains came. From Gauley Bridge south to Jenkin Jones, from the New River Gorge west to Buffalo Creek, the creeks and rivers surged over their banks; rocks and logs tumbled off the hillsides; sand and mud settled on lawns and gardens like an endless wasteland.





Spencer's Curve, below Anawalt in McDowell County, July 8         Photos by Amanda Heffinger


The violent storms cut through a swath of southern West Virginia, about 50 miles wide and 100 miles long. They swept through significant communities, including Glen Ferris, Oak Hill, Whitesville, Oceana, Mullens, Pineville and Anawalt. At least 1,500 families lost their houses, and thousands more had extensive damages. 


  Full stories and many photos of two dozen flooded communities can be found by clicking on the names of the places in the right-hand border.

Map courtesy of the Charleston Daily Mail
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Contact Gov. Wise

Contact DEP

Notched Right Arrow: Contact your legislator
Contact Gov. Wise
Contact DEP


    Newspaper photos don't do the storm justice. You can't comprehend the extent of the devastation until you drive hundreds of miles on Route 10, Route 60, Route 52 and the numerous smaller county roads through these areas. Community after community is digging out from under rocks and mud. Just when you think you've seen the worst one, you go around a corner and come upon a place even more horrible.


        Along Route 52, near Kimball in McDowell County  Photo by Penny Loeb

     In the first weeks after the flood, the media reported as much as 11 inches of rain in the Pineville and Mullens area. Those reports persisted through September. However, the rain gages of the National Weather Service show the most rain on July 8 was 5.32 inches at Mullens. The 11-inch-reading came from a gage that malfunctioned, according to Weather Service officials. For a complete list of rain amounts, flood levels and rainfall maps, click here (page will take awhile to load because of large maps and charts).

      Many flooded areas did get as much rain in six hours as usually falls in the entire month of July. The Weather Service found that it takes 1.8 inches to 2.9 inches of rain in three hours to cause flooding in these areas. However, the amount of rain was not as excessive as was thought right after the flooding. Many residents felt that something more than the rain was responsible. Perhaps all the timbering and mining up on the mountains should take part of the blame.

    Shortly after the floods, I (Penny Loeb) and filmmaker Bob Gates decided to investigate the connection between timbering and mining and the floods. Starting a few days after the July 8 flood, we traveled nearly three thousand miles to several dozen places. We visited most of the hollows with valley fills and sediment ponds from mountaintop mines. We also found a number of timbered areas, often with the guidance of local residents.

    Every flooded area we visited had either mining or timbering nearby. And in each case, there was some damage that appeared to come from the mining and timbering. Without exact measurements of water levels and rain amounts (some of which are being gathered; while others don't exist), it is difficult to say how much mining and timbering increased the high flows in the rivers and streams that spread out across the low lands. However, in each area visited people were damaged by runoff from the mines and logging.

    In several places, pieces of coal were scattered over several lawns. In other areas, the rocks that came down on people's houses and property were from mines. One of the oddest flood damage was that to houses halfway up hillsides, well above flood plains. In at least four places, these houses were directly below timbering jobs and timbering or gas well roads. Interestingly, older deep mines and unreclaimed mining areas were found in flooded areas. In McDowell County especially, numerous deep mines from half a century ago ooze water down the hillsides. Several slag piles eroded during the flood, spilling coal on nearby lawns.   

    In the six areas with active surface mines--Seng Creek, Dorothy, Oceana, Scrabble Creek, Armstrong Creek, and White Oak--there was considerable erosion from the fills and the sediment ponds. In White Oak, so many rocks had fallen out of the fill that the sediment pond had been obliterated.


Valley fill and sediment pond at White Oak    Photo by Penny Loeb

    The relation between flooding and valley fills is being studied as part of the Environmental Impact Statement being done by the Environmental Protection Agency under a court settlement of the Bragg v Robertson case. Preliminary results of a multi-agency examination of three valley fill areas, including that of Arch Coal's Samples Mine at the head of Seng Creek, show an increased risk of flooding.

    Environmental officials who have examined the fills at Seng Creek believe that the mine had nearly doubled the amount of runoff that went down Seng Creek. Orginally, it had been split between three watersheds coming off the mountain being mined. The EIS found that one fill at the Samples mine could increase flooding by 3 percent, while the other could increase it by 13 percent. At a larger fill at Arch's Hobet 21 mine on the Boone-Lincoln county borders, flooding could increase as much as 42 percent.

    The amount of recent timbering was surprising. Timbering had been done in the past three years in Rhodell, Glen Fork, Oceana, Pineville, Maben, Hotchkiss, McGraws, Pax, Anawalt, Leckie, Kimball, Glen Jean, Kincaid and other areas. Runoff and erosion were obvious on the logging roads up the mountains.

Timbering above Glen Jean in Fayette County   Photo by Penny Loeb

    The West Virginia Division of Forestry believes much of the runoff from timbering jobs comes from poorly designed roads. After the legislature passed the Logging Sediment Control Act in 1992, much of the focus of the subsequent regulations was on designing better roads. The handbook on Soil Erosion and Sedimentation, revised in June 2001, states: "It is a proven fact that cutting trees does not cause erosion. However, improperly performed logging operations and related activities (especially improperly planned and constructed roads and landings) along with certain silviculture activities that expose mineral soil (such as site preparation, mechanical tree planting, etc.) are contributing factors causing soil loss and sedimentation."

    We found several clear cut areas, like the one pictured above. More frequent, though, were areas of 50 to 100 acres where about half of the trees (the larger ones) had been removed. Most areas had four to six roads cut up and around the mountains. Though the Division of Forestry recommends that roads be seeded and have water drainage bars after completion of timbering, no roads were found in that condition. Most of the roads were eroded from the storms and appeared to have carried runoff down the mountains. Some timber operations failed to keep the 100-foot protected areas between roads and streams.

    Studies done at the U.S. Forest Service's Fernow Experimental Forest near Parsons show that the highest runoff occurs in the first year after timbering. After that, returning vegetation is believed to slow down the water. However, more recent studies have shown that decreasing the forest canopy by as little as 30 percent results in a significant increase in runoff. (See a summary of studies on runoff and timbering from the August 2001 Highlands Voice)

    Governor Bob Wise has assembled a task force to study whether mining and timbering contributed to the flooding. Two mined areas, at Seng Creek and Scrabble Creek, are being studied, as well as an unmined area. A timbered area adjacent to Scrabble Creek is being studied as well. However, no area with just timbering was included as of mid-August. A Division of Forestry inspector did examine a timbered area on a mountain above a home in Leckie, McDowell County, which sustained extensive flood damage. A neighbor was critical of the inspector's findings. (see letter)

    DEP officials have said new mines will be required to inventory all sources of potential runoff within the proposed permit area. However in other areas--which make up the majority of the southern counties--there is no requirement to assess the cumulative impact of timbering, old deep mines, older surface mines, unreclaimed slag piles and other mined areas, along with old and new timbering. In most cases, people living below extensively disturbed areas do not know what is happening on the mountains, or its impact on potential flooding around their properties.

    Now that the waters of the summer floods have subsided, many people who live near timbering and mining still believe they contributed to the flooding. (see letter) Yet, finding the answer--and lessening the danger of future floods-- may prove very difficult.

    Near my house in northern Virginia, 18 miles west of Washington, D.C., drainage regulations are very strict since any runoff will end up in the Potomac River, a couple of miles away. Builders must comply with several layers of rules, including those applying to the Chesapeake Bay Compact. As I drive around,  I marvel at the extent of drainage ditches and fences protecting even the slightest slopes. Not only are the routine black plastic fences erected, but a wire fence is often added to support the flimsy plastic. And in some places, the fences are doubled. Below are photos of the drainage-control structures for a new driveway crossing an intermittent stream, a mile from the Potomac River. I wonder if West Virginia would ever require such strict control of runoff from timbering and mining. How many millions of dollars could have been saved this summer?

    gf1.jpg (74875 bytes)  gf2.jpg (81017 bytes)

        Please feel free to contribute photos and stories about the floods or make comments. Contact The photos of Seng Creek were taken by a community resident.

(All photos on these pages by Penny Loeb unless otherwise noted)




(Pages with * have videos and take awhile to load)


Armstrong Creek

Charlton Heights


Glen Fork

*Glen Jean





Long Branch









Scrabble Creek

Seng Creek



White Oak

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