The lives of flood victims


(AP) — The flood that ravaged West Virginia last week killed at least 23 people. They were young and old; they were in their cars and in their homes; they were housekeepers and schoolteachers and Batman fans. Here are some snapshots of the lives cut short:

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Eduardo Thomas McMillion, 4

Eduardo “Edward” McMillion was cremated in a Batman cape, wrapped in a quilt made of patches of all his favorite superheroes.

“He never met a stranger. He loved to help,” said his grandmother, Marie McMillion. “He was so lovable. He would have given you a big bear hug. Because he loved everybody.”

The 4-year-old was killed in Jackson County on June 24, when an ankle-deep creek he loved to play in swelled to 6 feet as floodwater swamped West Virginia. He fell and his family tried desperately to save him. But the water was rushing too fast.

He is survived by his parents Cornelio Morales and Paige McMillion, his 1-year-old sister, grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents.

His mother decided she wanted Edward cremated in a quilt adorned with his favorite TV characters: Blaze, Paw Patrol, Superman, Scooby Doo. Friends and family across the state scoured fabric stores and T-shirt aisles to find them all, and a friend assembled them all into a blanket.

The hardest part, Marie McMillion said, is thinking of all the things he’ll never get to do. He never even got to go to school, she said.

“We’re just trying to take it one day at a time,” she said. “I think in these situations, it’s the weeks after everything settles down that it really hits you.”

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Belinda Scott, 55

Belinda Scott loved to sew, enjoyed camping and especially reading and babysitting her eight grandchildren.

According to her daughter, Kimberly Lester, Scott worked for 37 years in housekeeping at the posh Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. There, she’d met “celebrities and all kinds of stuff like that,” Lester said.

Some of the blankets Belinda sewed were sold at the Greenbrier’s children’s shop, “but most of the time she made them just for our family,” Lester said.

Scott’s grandchildren thought it was “cool” that she had a job at the resort. They enjoyed the ice cream at the Greenbrier Draper’s restaurant and visiting the resort at Christmastime to see the vast displays of holiday decorations, Lester said.

Scott, 55, and her husband, Ronnie, have two children, Lester and her twin brother, Kevin Scott. They turn 30 this month.

During the June 23 flood, Belinda Scott called her husband and said their house was filling up fast with water. Kevin had been helping his mom rescue belongings from the rising water, but the pair somehow got separated, Lester said.

Belinda fled to the attic and said she smelled natural gas. Kevin ended up at a neighbor’s attic and communicated with his mom by phone right before her house exploded.

Despite having burns, she escaped through a vent and clung to a tree for several hours. Her son kept talking to her until state police arrived. She died later died from her injuries.

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Billy Sanders Sr., 62

Billy Sanders Sr. gave his daughter tomato and squash plants for her birthday. Sanders loved to grow things, and his daughter couldn’t wait to tell him after she planted them on June 22. She knew he’d be proud of her. She told her mother, who passed word along to him.

He died the next day.

“It’s like I see my dad everywhere I look,” Donna Chestnut said. “We laugh and cry, laugh and cry. We’re just trying to make it through the days.”

Sanders tried to save his dogs from a creek running behind his house that seemed turn into an ocean in an instant, said his sister, Rosalee Young.

Sanders came from a close-knit family. He lived along Jordan Creek his whole life, on the same road as his mother, his siblings and his nephew. They lost almost everything.

Sanders, a retired carpenter, loved to do anything outdoors: fishing, camping, and simply sitting and listening to the breeze. He especially loved his garden, where he grew tomatoes, squash, corn, onions, green beans and turnips.

He was married, with two grown children and four grandchildren.

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Sandy Boswell, 57, and Joni Adams, 60

Joni Adams was an avid runner. She ran the Charleston Distance Run for 40 years in a row.

Sandy Boswell was also an athlete. She loved sports, landscaping and being outside.

They were dear friends for decades and they died together in Adams’ basement in Elkview as the floodwaters rose too fast to escape.

“Both of them had golden hearts, just adorable people,” said Stephanie Blake, their friend for 30 years. “They were once-in-a-lifetime people. I feel extremely blessed that God had them cross my path.”

They were both funny, with dry senses of humor. They’d do anything to make their friends smile.

“They would want us to continue on, they would want us to smile again,” Blake said. “That’s the goodness they had in their hearts and that’s what we’ve got to do somehow.”

Boswell, an accomplished basketball player in her youth, got her master’s degree in accounting, said her sister, Terry Boswell. Their parents died years ago. Neither Terry nor Sandy married and they talked often about how they were all the family each other had left.

“This was my biggest fear,” Terry said. “I told her all the time, ‘my biggest fear is losing you first.’ I just lost the biggest piece of my heart.”

Adams retired as a school teacher last year. A devoted fan of West Virginia University sports, she decorated her home in blue and gold. She loved games and competition, Blake said. They played Pictionary and she would sometimes get a little too competitive.

“We’d just laugh at her, and she laughed right back at us,” Blake said.

They were trying to save memorabilia in the basement at Adams’ home on the Elk River when the floodwaters poured in.

“That’s the only comfort that we have, that they died together,” said Tammy Dacken, Boswell’s lifelong friend. “If one would have died and the other would have lived, they wouldn’t have been able to take the guilt. That’s the kind of hearts they had.”

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Melissa “Lesa” Hess, 46

Lesa Hess loved romance novels and bowling.

Hess, her mother and daughter bowled in several leagues at Venture Lanes in South Charleston. They were so good they won the state championship last year.

She was the sort of person people noticed, said Sarah Varner, a close friend from the bowling alley.

“She had a larger than life personality,” Varner said. “You couldn’t hardly help to be in a good mood when you were around her.”

Hess died the afternoon of June 23. She was on the phone with 911 when the floodwater trapped her inside her car and carried it away.

Hess worked as a medical transcriptionist at a local hospital. She raised a son and a daughter as a single parent, said her mother, Barbara. She and her 21-year-old daughter still shared a home. They did everything together.

“She had a wit about her,” her mother said. “She would tell jokes; she wanted to make people feel good about themselves.”

Venture Lanes is holding a bowling tournament to raise money for her family on July 10.

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Emanuel “Manny” Williams, 8

Eight-year-old Emanuel “Manny” Williams had nine brothers and sisters, along with his parents, and had finished the first grade at Elm Grove Elementary School. He was known for his big smile and infectious laugh.

Manny’s hobbies included the outdoors, swimming, fishing and playing with salamanders and tadpoles, according to his obituary from Kepner Funeral Home in Wheeling.

Harry Croft, pastor at Marwin Church of the Nazarene in Wheeling, said Manny’s mother told him that she was walking across a creek with her son and daughter on June 23 because Manny wanted to catch crawdads. One of the children slipped and the mother grabbed them both in the swift current.

“She lost her grip on Manny,” the pastor said.

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