A small church, its sides made of logs, marks the entrance to White Oak along Route 3 between Beckley and Whitesville. On the night of June 1 and for the following few days, the church served as a shelter and Red Cross station for those evacuated during a massive flood. White Oak Creek twists up about two miles from the
church to the Battle Ridge mine (on left) that is taking the top of the mountain behind the far end of the community. The other side of this mine can be seen from I-64 near the bridge across Skitter Creek.
The creek forks at the end. The right fork is being clear cut in preparation for a valley fill. The left fork (on left) had a half-finished finished valley fill in early June. When the hard rain fell for a few hours the night of June 1, the water rushed off the mountains, down the valley fill and the clear cut area and washed out the access road to the mine. This newly built, fairly straight road was supposed to last 100 years. It lasted about 100 days, joked Lynn Maynor (above) when he took a reporter and photographer to see the valley fill three days after the flood. Judging by the absence of footprints, they were the first to see the valley fill after the flood. Maynor is a retired miner, who has spent his entire life in White Oak. He and others have worried about what washouts from the valley fills during hard rains.
The water rose to five feet down by the church. Bridges, trees and rocks were left strewn over the road and
lawns when the water resided. Highway crews worked several days to make the road passable again.
Susan Shea and James Stover were returning home from their church a few miles away when the rains started. Shea was a mother of three in her mid-30s; James, her next door neighbor, was 15. Both lived across the road from Lynn Maynor. Panicking, they wanted to reach their families. They drove up the road as far as they could. When they stepped out of the car, their feet found only water. The rushing creek waters had washed out the edge of the road. They were swept downstream. Their bodies were found more than a mile away the next day.
Officials don't know whether the valley fill contributed to the flood. The mine was issued a violation. Federal and state mining officials, as well as representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are studying how valley fills impact drainage and whether the huge masses of rocks will remain stable over the years.
Memories of the flood remain for the residents of White Oak. In the fall, Maynor and several of his friends showed a group of environmentalists the valley fills. It was a moving experience for Suzanne Robert of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition: "This was my first visit to rural Appalachia. There was so much to see and think about," she wrote in the November 1997 OVEC "E" Notes. "...Close-knit communities that 'do good science' (understand the environment they use), and accept the costs as well as the benefits of the harvest, can actually regulate themselves. Give the costs to some people and the benefits to others, and you have environmental abuse and social injustice. It had happened and continues to happen in the coalfields of Appalachia. It needs to stop. There is too much beauty and knowledge and life at stake here. And ultimately, we all live downstream."