CLENDENIN, W.Va. — Many homes have been rebuilt in the Kanawha County town of Clendenin since the 2016 flood, but Mayor Kay Summers says even six years later, her town has not made a full recovery.
“Some people were told they were going to get their houses torn down and, for some people, that didn’t happen,” Summers told MetroNews Tuesday.
On June 23, 2016, historic flooding ravaged much of West Virginia and claimed 23 lives as heavy rain moved in, stalled for hours and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.
The storm caused water levels to rise from the Elk River in Clendenin and Elkview, resulting in more than eight feet of water in Summers’ home.
“We stayed here because we knew there was no place else to go,” Summers said.
Nicole Holcomb moved to Clendenin less than a year before the flood. She had about four feet of water in her home that was newly renovated.
“We bought the house in November, started remodeling it and then flooded in June,” she said.
Holcomb has rebuilt since then, but said she can’t help but think the worst every time it rains.
“When it rains, you start staring at the river. Before, it was like ‘oh, look at the river!’ Now it’s like ‘what are you going to do?'” she said.
She and many other families were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
In an effort to make Clendenin whole again, Summers decided to hit the campaign trail. She was elected as Clendenin’s mayor in 2019.
“That’s the only reason why I ran for mayor, so I could make it easy,” she said.
The road to recovery, though, has not been swift. Summers said the town still faces obstacles with securing more funds to rebuild homes. The most daunting task has been getting a new grocery store. She said residents are still left without anywhere to shop for food.
“Our nearest store is in Elkview and so that’s 10 miles from here,” she said.
Jenny Gannaway, executive director of West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD), told MetroNews 2,300 families statewide have recovered since the flood and that the last push has been difficult.
“We knew the last 300-400 homes were going to be the hardest because it was going to take some mitigation, acquisition, relocating families,” Gannaway said.
The goal is to complete about 20 remaining homes through RISE West Virginia by early this fall, Gannaway said.
“By the end of this year, we’re going to have everybody back into a home that was affected,” she said, adding that the state is now better prepared to respond to flooding events.
New Clendenin Elementary School
Clendenin Elementary School was destroyed in the flood and is now being rebuilt at a mountaintop site just off of U.S. Route 119 on Wolverton Mountain Road.
FEMA approved $27 million in federal funds for the project in June 2020. The money represents 90 percent of the total cost.
Construction was paused in Oct. 2021 after pyritic sulfur was found in the soil. Officials had hoped to complete the project this August, but a Kanawha County Schools spokesperson told MetroNews Wednesday the timeline for completition is unknown.
“KCS has located acceptable options for new fill dirt for the site and is currently negotiating pricing,” spokesperson Briana Warner said in an email. “We still plan to begin building work again on the site this summer. There is not a new project completion date yet, but once they are able to begin work again, we expect quick progress. ”
In the days after the flood, then-President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for West Virginia counties. Then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued a State of Emergency and called the flood “among the worst in a century.”
Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties were hit the hardest.
At the time, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper told MetroNews that Clendenin was unreachable because of the high water.
“Clendenin basically became an ally. We couldn’t get to Clendenin,” Carper said in 2016.
High water at the Greenbrier Resort, owned by now-Gov. Jim Justice, forced a brief closure of the facility in White Sulphur Springs.
High school programs were impacted statewide including the Clay County High School football team and the Herbert Hoover High School marching band. Each of those programs lost equipment in the flood.
In Elkview, a bridge collapsed at the Crossings Mall exit off I-79, leaving shoppers stranded for two days until another access road was built. A new bridge has been reconstructed since then.
The towns of Richwood and Rainelle were also under water, but residents never gave up hope.
“It’ll come back,” Richwood resident Virginia Bennett told MetroNews in 2016. “It’ll come back stronger than ever.”
Clendenin welcomes new business
Since the flood, Clendenin has opened new biking trails, boat ramps for kayakers and others to make use of the Elk River and new Air bnbs are bringing in much needed revenue.
Clendenin Brewing Company on Main Street is set to open at 11 a.m. Saturday. Co-owners Matt and Nikki Holbert have been busy preparing seven different beers for customers to try.
Nikki Holbert said their business will be a much needed boost to the community at this time.
“Everybody has been trying to come back and grow since then, so it’s still a process,” she said.
The Clendenin Library was flooded and is being rebuilt with kiosks in town and a playground across the street.
In addition to single family homes, new apartments are going up including facilities for senior citizens.
The town is also building a stage at the end of Main Street where bands can play outdoors and other events can be held.
“The town of Clendenin is coming back. It is going to be bigger and it is going to be better,” Summers said.