X logo

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

You may opt-out anytime by clicking "unsubscribe" from the newsletter or from your account.

Ten Years Later, Effects Of Flood Are Still Felt

What’s happening on the creek?

To Mark Jackson of Neffs, it’s a question the quiet village should ask itself every time a drop of rain falls. Jackson’s home was one of the hundreds ravaged throughout the Ohio Valley during the September 2004 flooding caused by Hurricane Ivan.

Flash flooding hit the creek twice that month – on Sept. 8 and again on Sept. 17. The latter flood was brought on by Hurricane Ivan, which brought destruction to most parts of the Upper Ohio Valley. Three people died as a result of the flooding, which saw 9.5 inches of rain hit the area in less than 24 hours and required years of work for many area businesses and residents to recover.

One of the hardest-hit areas in the Ohio Valley, homes and businesses in Neffs were damaged, and an entire section of the small community was wiped completely off the map.

Ten years later, Jackson said residents in the area have been forever changed by the disaster.

“I’ve lived in the community for 50 years, and the creeks overflowing have always been a summer problem, but locals were only accustomed to their basement having a bit of water, or other smaller issues. We pay attention to hurricanes now.” Jackson said. “I think the community has had a post-traumatic experience. Most people I know get out of bed in the middle of the night during a hard rain, and 10 years later, I still see flashlights outside when neighbors are awoken by the sound.”

About $2.3 million was used for more than 50 home buyouts in Belmont County in 2007, provided mostly by FEMA, with help from the county. Buyouts were based on a benefit cost evaluation formula, and all were completed by 2009 for the 2004 flooding, according to A.C. Weith, assistant director of management services at Bel-O-Mar Regional Council.

Jackson said that flood insurance helped him and his wife, Marjorie, restore their home, although many residents of the area accepted FEMA buyouts instead due to a lack of insurance.

“Everything in the house was ruined, as much as we tried to prevent it,” Jackson said. “Pictures and keepsakes were the most difficult to lose, and of course couldn’t be replaced.”

Jackson added that the most important thing for residents to do in a natural disaster is help themselves to safety.

Stormie Pollard lived in Neffs with her mother, Cindi “Sis” McGuire, and received financial and clean-up help from FEMA when the flood occurred. Pollard said she was amazed at the community’s ability to support one another during a disaster.

“This event brought the community together like never before,” Pollard said. “We could get water from the fire department for weeks after the flood, and churches provided food and laundry services.”

Pollard said environmental changes are unavoidable, and the community should prepare themselves in the future.

“Outside of the damage done, the amount of rain was incredible to see,” Pollard said. “More storms like this are very possible, and I hope we can work together to be more ready for another in the future.”

David Ivan, director of Belmont County’s emergency management agency, said all reconstructive projects have been completed in Neffs, although various preventive measures are being considered for the future.

“One of the biggest highlights of our new safety plans is a code red, or reverse 911 system. When I receive a flood report, I make one phone call and the system will automatically notify every person in that target area with a home phone,” Ivan said.

Ivan said a major factor that worsens the devastation of a flood is debris in creeks.

“Some factors of these events are preventable,” Ivan said. “Residents should stop using the creeks as trash cans. This practice causes a makeshift dam, and contributes to flooding.”

Across the river, Wheeling and Ohio County were also severely hit by the flood, with several parts of the downtown area shut down completely due to rising waters.

What still stands out to Wheeling Councilman Eugene Fahey about that day is how quickly everything happened, and the way neighbors came together to help one another. He has a brother and sister who lived in the Pleasanton neighborhood where homes sustained severe damage, and recalls the flood as one of the more catastrophic events in Wheeling in recent memory.

“As you would drive down Valley View (Avenue), for example, it just reminded you of a war zone,” Fahey said. “Every house, their personal belongings, everything they lived for was just sitting on the curb as they tried to clean out their homes.”

At age 67 and a lifelong Wheeling Island resident, former councilman Vernon Seals has somewhat of a different perspective on the 2004 flood. For Island “old-timers,” as Seals refers to them, dealing with rising water is a part of life.

“When I was a kid, we got a flood every spring. … You learn to take it in stride,” Seals said.

Illustrating that point, Seals remembers his amusement when Public Works Director Russell Jebbia informed him of his plans to bring 200 sandbags to Wheeling Island to try and control the flooding.

“I said, ‘You ain’t going to stop a flood from getting on the Island,'” Seals recalled.

Although Fahey said it’s impossible to be truly prepared for something like that, he believes those difficult days taught residents to take the threat of flooding seriously. Events like the flash flood that occurred in Woodsdale during a heavy rain almost a month ago never cease to bring memories of Sept. 17, 2004, rushing back.

“It’s a thing you never forget. … If there’s a lesson to be learned, that was it,” Fahey said. “I think that now, people heed that warning more than they ever did in their life.”

Fellow Councilman Don Atkinson agrees the 2004 flood was a major wake-up call.

“People are more aware now than they used to be,” he said.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.73/week.

Subscribe Today