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LENORE

Water rushed off the mountains and down into the center of Lenore by the new school and further down the road into Parsley Bottom.

A month after the flood, one of the hardest hit families was desperate for help--and let Gov Bob Wise know. Some of the trees in the photo appear to be cut logs that could have come from logging or land-clearing.

This slide closed Route 52 for some time.

Lenore was also the focus of a story buy Tara Tuckwiller of The Charleston Gazette on unusual aspects of FEMA flood recovery in southern West Virginia:

LENORE — Fat, lazy flies buzz in the otherwise silent darkness of Jeffrey Harrison’s mobile home. Sunlight filters dimly through the windows, which are caked with the same sewage that is heaped 10-inches deep on the floor.

“Nothing to do but burn it,” Harrison said, shutting the door on his flood-ruined house.

Harrison, his wife and three teenage children have been homeless since the Memorial Day flood submerged their Mingo County house under 6 1/2 feet of contaminated sludge.

For the past week, the family has been living in a tiny pull-behind camper parked next to their condemned house. But when emergency workers found the family three weeks ago, they were living in their minivan.

It’s just one of many, many examples of “special needs” in Southern West Virginia that aren’t exactly part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency handbook:

·  Family land. Often in remote areas of West Virginia, families have been living on a certain piece of land for generations. The original deed is long gone, but everybody knows that’s so-and-so’s land.

Normally, FEMA requires proof of ownership before it will give a victim money to repair his house. In West Virginia, “our disaster-recovery centers ask people to bring in their tax bills ... or statements from local officials” that yes, indeed, so-and-so does own that house, said FEMA worker Claire Dale.

“Sometimes, when people’s family has been on this land for a couple hundred years, there’s just not a good trail.”

·  Illiteracy. FEMA prints nice brochures, full of instructions on how to get disaster help. Unfortunately, “in some areas of Mingo, Logan and McDowell counties, there is a problem with literacy,” said FEMA disaster coordinator Louis Botta.

So FEMA bought a bunch of blank cassettes, and got one of its public relations workers — former Voice of America broadcaster Gil Butler — to read the whole pamphlet into a tape recorder.

“People can get the information they want without having to feel embarrassed,” Botta said. It went over so well, FEMA added cassette readings of the lease contracts for its travel trailers and mobile homes, and information on making them snug for the winter, “because we understand that some of these arrangements are going to be longer-term than the change of the seasons.”

·  Perilous houses. “We’ve had an unusual number of calls from inspectors in the field, saying, ‘This is a dangerous situation,’” Dale said. Inspectors originally dispatched simply to verify flood damage have found people living in “dwellings that are threatening to go off cliffs, 2 feet from the edge,” Dale said. “Houses ready to go in creeks ... landslides, rock falls.”

Dale, who specializes in such unusual cases, immediately locates a motel near the person’s house and authorizes the Red Cross to issue a motel voucher, for as long as it takes to find the person a suitable rental house.

Another oddity about this disaster is its sheer size.

“We just went over $10 million — and that’s only assistance to individuals,” not counting business loans, road repair and the like, Botta said. “That is a very large disaster.”

Nobody expected the damage to be that widespread. “We anticipated maybe 4,000 [victim] registrations,” Botta said. “Now, we’re close to 7,000.”

There’s still a month to go until Aug. 6, the deadline for victims to register for help. FEMA headquarters, the nerve center of the whole operation, is going full blast: 300 workers on six floors of an office building. If you see Botta, he’s probably swilling espresso to keep up the urgent disaster pace, and urging victims to sign up.

“There’s a lot of people hurting out there,” he said. “I know some people are extremely proud — ‘I don’t need a handout from the federals’ — but it’s their taxes coming back to them.”

FEMA has found the Harrison family enough money to start looking for a new house to buy. Jeffrey Harrison had found a house he liked near his daughter’s high school — but then the owner’s father clued him in that floodwater covered the porch back in 1977.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want it, then,’” Harrison said regretfully. “I’ve had enough of that.”

To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189