Concern About Dam Leads to Evacuations in W. Va.’s Lincoln County

April 17, 2007

Emergency officials in West Virginia asked hundreds of Lincoln County residents living downriver from an earthen dam to evacuate last Sunday night because of concerns the dam might crumble and loose millions of gallons of water.

Heavy rains caused Lee’s Fishing Lake Dam to become destabilized by erosion around the drainage pipe and a clog in the dam’s piping system, said Allen Holder, Lincoln County emergency services director.

“The face of the dam has slipped, and the pipe that goes through the dam to drain water is clogged, so water is not coming through the pipe, it’s coming around the pipe and around the sides of the dam,” Holder said.

A break in the dam would affect an area where 500 to 1,000 people live. The 22-foot dam, which holds at least 5 million gallons of water, is located 2 miles from Hamlin on private property. By early Monday morning at least 100 residents had already complied with the voluntary evacuation to nearby shelters at a school and a church, Holder said.

Several fire units were expected to work through the night with large water pumps, removing 200,000 gallons per hour from the man-made lake, Holder said.

Earlier Sunday, dozens of people were rescued from homes and vehicles in Boone, Logan and Wyoming counties after flooding spawned by the storm system rolled through southern West Virginia. At least two people were injured and two others were unaccounted for, emergency officials said.

“It’s about as bad as it can get,” said Scott Beckett, chief of the Logan Fire Department. “This thing came down at 2 or 3 in the morning, when people were sleeping in their beds. They just didn’t know what was happening.”

Up to 2.5 inches of rain had fallen across the region since early Saturday morning, said Dan Bartholf, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston.

Most of the heavy rainfall had ended by early afternoon, Bartholf said.

High water or mud blocked major roads throughout Wyoming County, trapping many residents in their homes, said Dean Meadows, county emergency services director. Officials rescued two county residents complaining of chest pains and took them to Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley. By Sunday afternoon, calls from stranded residents had tapered off, he said.

In Matheny, two unidentified people were injured when they drove into high water and their truck became lodged under a bridge, Meadows said. Firefighters sliced the top off the truck and rescued the two people, who were taken to Raleigh General Hospital. Their conditions were unknown.

Water surrounded 94-year-old Mildred Frost’s home on Coon Branch Road, leaving no way out.

“Our houses sit in the middle of the hill, and it’s all around us. I’m surrounded, it’s like a lake completely around us,” said Frost’s granddaughter, Samantha Walker, 29, who along with her husband and two children were staying with Frost.

She said the family was waiting out the flooding.

“All the back roads have been completely blocked off, so we can’t get out even if we wanted to get out,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Gov. Joe Manchin planned to issue an emergency disaster declaration but the damage was still being assessed late Sunday afternoon. The declaration was expected Monday morning, Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

No damage estimates were immediately available.

“We’ve dodged a bullet. We’re going to do everything we can to help them. We’ll be there for them and do everything we can,” Manchin told The Logan Banner in a telephone interview from Miami, where he was attending a seminar on coal liquefaction.

In Boone County, floodwaters heavily damaged downtown Madison, submerging an insurance office, a motorcycle dealership and part of Main Street. Water also covered a playground.

“I’m not waiting to be told to leave. I’m leaving, you better believe it,” said Kathryn Ball, who left her apartment with only her pocketbook and an umbrella.

Chuck Runyon, assistant chief of the Madison Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters had rescued nine people and two dogs in the area since 8 a.m.

The Guyandotte River at Branchland was at 26.2 feet as of Sunday afternoon, about 4 feet below flood stage. The river was expected to crest at around 31 feet Sunday evening, the weather service said.

Several rain-swollen rivers in the Eastern Panhandle and north-central and southeastern West Virginia also were expected to crest above flood stage Sunday evening. Minor flooding was expected in these regions, the weather service said.

Floodwaters entered about 30 businesses and 90 homes in Logan County and two people were unaccounted for, said Roger Bryant, director of Emergency Services for Logan County.

It was the county’s worst flooding since Memorial Day 2004, he said.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., toured flooded areas in Logan County late Sunday afternoon. He said streams clogged with garbage, discarded furniture and other debris worsened the flooding in Logan County.

“We’ve got some unique problems here that aren’t problems even in the rest of the state,” Rahall said.


Information from: The Logan Banner,

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