The new shopping center in Kimball, the one with the Kmart was spared. It was the heart of the town that was removed.

            A stranger who sees the Kmart complex first doesn’t expect more to Kimball. It appears suddenly, along a sweeping curve of the Elkhorn River, as you approach from the west. A ribbon of old stone and brick buildings, dating from the coal boom in the first decades of the century. And it was around these historic structures that the flood waters swirled and left their sand and rock. Though some buildings were already vacant, now all are devoid of life. Even the town hall and the library were destroyed. The buildings stand, but the water took the life from everything remaining on the ground floors. Some stalwart business people could be seen trying to clean up file cabinets or other vital components of their livelihood. A few tenants seemed to remain in the apartments upstairs.

            There is some active mining near Kimball. But the more obvious alterations of the hills upstream come from timbering and reclaimed mine sites. Just as you leave the old section of town, a quarter-mile reclaimed slag dump appears just above the river. A twin site is just downstream. The slag dump looks like a sculpture on the hill. Grass covers the slope, while terraces step upward. Some small trees are growing. It would take an engineer to calculate how much this open hillside could have contributed to the flow.


            Just past the slag dump, is a recent timbering job. It has the typical sparse appearance left after the large trees are taken out. Unfortunately, the railroad tracks along the river made it impossible to reach the base of the timbered hillside to see the degree of erosion.

            The current mining is on the mountain opposite the timbering. Two weeks after the flood, there was a field of rocks where the road to the mining joins Route 52. It was about two acres and four feet deep. The rocks surrounded the elementary school and half a dozen larger homes. It made me curious to see what lay at the end of the road. First, though, I noticed that the creek was black, the kind of black that comes from coal slurry and coats the rocks like someone had dipped them in chocolate syrup. I saw a small deep mine and pile of coal about 500 feet up the creek. The road rose up the hillside overlooking the prep plant and continued. wpe1.jpg (32854 bytes)               kimbalprep.jpg (114701 bytes)

A pickup truck came down the gravel road, carrying furniture, so it seemed people lived up the road. There was a mobile home about half a mile up the road, but it was vacant. The creek washed out here, shoving the bridge to the home aside and leaving much debris. Signs of deep mines appeared along the hillside, including large pipes carrying water flowing out the mines into the ditches alongside the road. I learn later that there is a surface mine up the mountain to the east, but I didn’t drive up the road.

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Back at the end of the road, I decided to see if anyone is in the houses surrounded by the abundance of rocks.

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Charlotte Berger had just returned from shopping with her granddaughter and grandson. She was playing a new game with her granddaughter and grandson and trying to get her life back together. She also owned the Laundromat in the center of Kimball that is a total loss--and the building is not safe for the tenants upstairs. Just a year away from retirement, the flood has taken everything from her. The house may not need to be condemned, but the cellar had water damage. The National Guard told her they would help remove the rocks from her yard in the next week or so.  Her flowers are destroyed, buried under the gritty debris.

Rain came in buckets the morning of the flood, she recalled. As the washout came down the creek and leaped over the sides, the rocks and trees got stopped by the fence around the school, about 1000 feet away at the end of the road between the houses. So instead of continuing across the road, a lot of material just backed up to the houses.

Did mining have anything to do with the flood? I asked. “I think so,” she replied. “Everyday at 4 p.m., black water comes down the creek. My neighbor called the state.”

    For more photos of flooding in Kimball and neighboring towns, see