By Michael Browning
VERDUNVILLE — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has seen many floods in the coalfields.
In 2004, Manchin (D-W.Va.) was one of the first state officials on the scene when, as governor, he toured the area with county leaders.
In 2009, when flooding washed through Mingo County, he was, again, one of the first to come to the flood-ravaged Matewan and Gilbert areas, where he rolled up his sleeves and waded through water and mud to give a message of hope to victims.
Now, as a United States senator, Manchin has come back to Logan for another flood zone visit. And, like his past visits, he came bringing help and hope.
Manchin was in Verdunville on Saturday to open a Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center to assist those affected by the recent severe storms that hit the surrounding areas.
“This is the hardest I’ve ever seen a flood hit in one area. This is total devastaton,” Manchin said. “People are trying to get their lives back and their neighbors are helping and the church here has been serving hot meals for the last week. Now, we’ve got FEMA in the Verdunville Volunteer Fire Department and I’m seeing everybody’s spirits are high, because they know they have help now. That’s the most important thing. They’re going to make it.
“I talked with Janet Napolitano and I had called her when the tornadoes came through and then I had to call her a couple of days ago and I said we have another urgent situation, because these people who got hit hard have nothing. She said she’d get right on it and she signed the disaster declaration that night. That was tremendously quick.”
Manchin said he believes the flood victims will rise up and recover from this disaster.
“It’s who we are as a state. You put any challenge in front of us and we’ll find a way to overcome it,” Manchin said. “The way you overcome it is through personal interaction. You have people who don’t know each other, but, all of a sudden, they have the same thing in common, they can help. We’ve got help coming from Parkersburg and from all over because they want to help. That’s just who we are and it makes us more special than most places.”
The office is scheduled to be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.
Logan County is one of three counties in West Virginia that yesterday was confirmed a Presidential Disaster Declaration site. Lincoln and Mingo counties are also covered under the disaster declaration.
“I am honored to visit Logan County for the opening of this FEMA office,” Senator Manchin said. “So many West Virginians have faced hardships the past few weeks as they continue to pick up the pieces from the damage and destruction they’ve encountered. Although the victims of this horrendous weather are showing great optimism in the storm’s wake, a disaster recovery center is critical to speed up rebuilding the homes and businesses of these affected communities.”
Earlier this month, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced that federal storm damage relief had been granted for Doddridge, Harrison, Lincoln, Marion, Mingo, Monongalia, Preston, Ritchie, Roane, Taylor and Wayne counties after bad storms caused severe damage. Those federal funds will assist communities across the state that were affected by severe storms, tornadoes, flooding, mudslides and landslides between February 29 and March 5. Then, just days after the storms rolled through Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo counties, the flash flooding his Mud Fork, Verdunville, Coal Branch and Mount Gay in Logan County, Dingess in Mingo County and areas of Lincoln County.
On Thursday night, the president issues a federal disaster declaration for Logan, Lincoln and Mingo counties.
In addition to touring the damage in several counties caused by the severe storms from February 29 to March 5, Senator Manchin wrote to President Obama and spoke with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s request for the declaration of a major disaster for West Virginia be granted after more severe weather hit the state March 15.
This declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Logan County. At this time, individuals in Logan County can register with FEMA by calling (800) 621-3362 or apply online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Those who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.
Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments as well as to certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms, flooding, mudslides and landslides in Lincoln, Logan and Mingo Counties.
In addition, Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
Logan County Emergency Services Director Roger Bryant said people need to call FEMA to get help.
“Even if you have called for assistance at 304-752-0917, you still must register with FEMA at the 1-800 number in order to get help,” Bryant said. “Just because you are registered with us, that does not mean you are registered with FEMA. The first step for everybody is that they have to call the 1-800 number.”
Bryant said recovery work is moving along quicker than expected.
“I think we’re ahead of schedule,” Bryant said. “Right now, if you drive up through here, it looks pretty good compared to a week ago. We’ve hauled over 1,000 tons of debris out of Mud Fork already and I think we’re up on it.”
State Sen. Art Kirkendoll and Logan County Commission President Danny Godby joined Manchin in talking with flood victims. They heard concerns and went out to check on victims’ needs immediately after the visit.
FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Deanne Criswell said the disaster recovery center is there to help people navigate their way through the process of getting help.
“This is for all residents in Logan County who were impacted by the flooding on March 15,” Criswell said. “We encourage people to register with FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or they can register online. But, if they haven’t registered, they can come down here and we will help them through that process and put them in touch with the right programs to help them with their needs. We have things like housing assistance, programs for crisis counseling and disaster unemployment. The Small Business Administration is also here and they will be able to talk to people and tell them what their programs are. I encourage everyone to stop and talk with SBA before they leave here because they have a lot of things that people aren’t aware of. Even though it’s a business administration, they have a lot of help for residents who were impacted by the floods.
“I have toured the flood area and it’s amazing the amount of damage we have seen come through this area. I just talked with someone who has lived here 83 years and this is the first flood she’s ever been through. So, with that, I know there are a lot of questions because they haven’t experienced this and they don’t know what to expect. Any questions they have, they can come down here to talk face-to-face. If they just want to talk to somebody, that’s what we’re here for.”
Criswell said people will get help if they visit the recovery center.
“They will listen to them and help them with their concerns and put them in the right direction to where they need to go to get the necessary assistance from FEMA and the state,” Criswell said. “Everybody is going to have unique needs, so what we do is try to put them in touch with the right programs to make sure they get their needs specific to their situation addressed.”
Criswell said there is a lot of ways FEMA can help disaster victims.
“They will sign up at the 1-800 number and get registered in the system and then we’ll send an inspector out to their home to determine what the level of damage is and whether they are eligible for any repair money for their home, which is free money and they can use that to help fix their home up,” Criswell said. “Also, depending on their circumstances, they can get loans through the SBA and they are low-interest loans that can help meet any needs that aren’t met through the FEMA grant.”
To contact Staff Writer Michael Browning, call 304-752-6950, extension 309, or email him at email@example.com.