Clendenin starts to repair after devasting floods

Photo Credit: Sam Owens, Charleston Gazette-Mail | Taylor Self of Charleston lays pictures out to dry as she takes a break from cleaning Sherry and Kelly Cole’s house, who are her best friend’s parents, in Clendenin, W.Va., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. Self drove from Charleston early Saturday morning once she saw pictures of the damage done by flooding on Sherry Cole’s Facebook page.

By: Jake Jarvis | Posted: June 25, 2016 | Source: WV Gazette-Mail

Sherry Cole just wants to have a clean house again where she can shower.

Mud and water covered absolutely everything in her home on Saturday. It stuck to the floors, the walls, the plates and even the pool table. Volunteers from a church in Parkersburg — absolute strangers to the woman before the flooding — showed up to her home Saturday morning with buckets and shovels, ready to clean anything they could.

Everything left downstairs that hadn’t been washed away by the floodwaters that ripped through the house Thursday night and Friday morning was thrown away. Everything.

“Just throw it all away,” Cole said. “I can’t even bring myself to look through it, any of it.”

One woman helping to clean carried an armful of ceramics and other odds and ends to the trash pile across the street, but Cole suddenly spotted something. Tucked underneath the woman’s arm was a picture frame. In it, the last picture Cole had of her grandmother.

“OK, actually — actually save that,” she said, her voice beginning to break. She took the picture and brought it close to her chest. Her hands touched the glass, rubbing off the few mud splatters and tracing the long crack from the bottom of the frame to the top.

Cole and the other residents of Clendenin were finally able to emerge from their homes on Saturday, following the Thursday and Friday floods that ravaged the area, destroying homes, washing out roads and killing at least 24 across the state.

With all of the roads finally opened, people there started to clean up. Assessing the damage, they noticed the Dairy Queen on Elk River Road had been destroyed.

And here’s the Dairy Queen, which was absolutely destroyed by the flood.

All the water had sunk back into the Elk River, leaving behind a slick mud that still covered most of the town. Tires spun as cars and trucks tried to drive over it; rain boots slid as they tried to walk through it. Neighbors waded through the mud, piled ankle deep in some places, to visit their friends and family and help them start to recover from the flood.

“I always said if this house floods, the whole town is going to flood,” Cole said.

You would be hard pressed to find a place in Clendenin that wasn’t affected by the storm. Houses high up in the hills were spared from the floods, but many of their driveways were washed away or covered by small mudslides from the torrential rain.

People here say the rain came fast — too fast to react to it. They knew there was a flash flood warning, but that’s not out of the ordinary for the town that hugs the Elk River. Occasional floods are commonplace.

I’m in Clendenin this morning. The whole place is caked with this thick layer of mud.

Diane Holcomb lives just two doors down from Cole on Willow Street. That night, her husband had just returned from Ripley with takeout food. He, his wife and her sister sat inside Holcomb’s house, hoping to wait the storm out. They figured that even if the area did flood, the house’s foundation was high enough to keep them safe and dry. There was flood water creeping up the street, sure, but it was about a 100 yards away from the house.

“We had the air conditioner. We were watching TV,” Holcomb said, slapping her sister’s leg and laughing. “And then my daughter-in-law’s mother called me and said, ‘Diane, the windows in the library are busting out. Have you looked outside?’”

She hadn’t for about 25 minutes.

The water was touching the first step up to Holcomb’s front porch. Luckily, they had already taken their cars up to the local cemetery which sits high on a hill. Holcomb and her sister would have been trapped there if a neighbor hadn’t come along with a boat to whisk them off to safety.

Back at Cole’s house, it was too late.

“You know, it flooded here in 1997 when we lived here, and we didn’t get flooded. At all. We didn’t know to get out of town,” Cole said. “We knew the water was rising fast, but we just thought it was going to be like before.”

The couple rushed to stack as much furniture as they could onto the pool table to try and save it, just in case the water got into the house.

Then, she heard it bubbling up through the air vents.

“I looked at my husband and I said, ‘All right, that’s it. Let’s go upstairs. It’s all over,” she said.

They sat trapped on the second floor of their house, watching the water creep higher and higher every minute. At night, they could hear the sound of the furniture floating around downstairs, occasionally bumping into the wall.

All they could do was sit and wait, listening to their home being destroyed, feeling the house quake as the foundation began to slip.

“We’ve got to pick up our life and move it somewhere else now,” Cole said. “We can’t fix this.”

This inside Sherry Cole’s home. She started cleaning up today with help from volunteers, family and friends.

Reach Jake Jarvis at, 304-348-7939 or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.