While creeks and streams were spilling out of their banks and into fields and roads in Pocahontas County Thursday, White Sulphur Springs received an estimated nine inches of rain, leading to one of the most devastating floods in West Virginia history.
Dunmore resident Richard Nottingham experienced the flood first hand, as he found himself stuck in White Sulphur Springs during the apex of the storm.
Nottingham was returning home from Beckley and when he left the Lewisburg Walmart around 4:30 p.m., he had no idea what he was heading toward.
“The interstate was wet, but no sign of flood or anything,” he said.
Rt. 60 was another matter.
“It was just real light rain and you’ve got a hump to come over, then you hit a straight stretch through there [near White Sulphur] and there were twelve to fifteen cars and pickups in a line going up through there. We were running through two or three inches of water on that straight stretch.”
In 100 yards, when Nottingham got closer to The Greenbrier golf course, the water went from two or three inches to a foot deep.
The front bumper of Nottingham’s car was picking up water and splashing it onto the windshield making visibility much worse than a regular rain storm. Making a swift decision between splashes, Nottingham turned off the road and headed to higher ground which more than likely saved his life.
“Just as soon as that water cleared from my windshield, there was a road right there and I had to cut hard to it,” he said. “There was a van following me on the main road. I pulled up behind a man sitting in his car and he jumped out and was pointing – I thought he was pointing at me – the water had taken that van off the road and was washing it down.”
The man tried to get Nottingham to go to the van, but Nottingham told him it would be suicide.
“I said, ‘that water washed that van over there, we can’t do anything with it,’” Nottingham recalled. (The man was rescued.)
Safe on the side road, Nottingham said he and others watched as debris, possessions and animals washed by them.
“I saw a chicken float by and a rabbit and a little ol’ fawn float out of the water to safety,” he said. “I watched for about an hour. Stuff was washing by – trash cans, propane tanks and a building, about an eight by twelve, floating.”
Nottingham went further up the road, turned and parked with his car pointing toward the main road. A man in a commercial truck drove by and told him to keep moving to higher ground because there was a possibility the nearby dam would overflow and send water down the road.
“Going up there, water was washing over the road banks in six or eight places, washing the bank off, washing rocks out in the road,” he said. “I was running over rocks and tree limbs to get up there. Finally I drove up to a man’s driveway – one of those multi-million dollar homes back in there – and I pulled up in his driveway. He had a good place to turn around and I backed up right to his garage door.”
Nottingham settled in for the evening and watched the storm grow more aggressive.
“It started raining harder and the lightning – it was some of the brightest lightning – it would blind you in daylight,” he said. “It kept raining harder and harder, and that thunder was one crack after the other.”
Nottingham spent the night in his vehicle and by 6 a.m. Friday morning, he decided it was time to try to go home.
Leaving the driveway, he drove through debris, rocks and limbs, dodging large ruts caused by the waterfall of rain coming off the hill.
“I drug my car in three or four places and I came to a place where the stuff was piled up about three feet deep in the road,” he said. “I rolled a pretty good size rock out of the way. I turned up that main road toward White Sulphur and you couldn’t believe your eyes. When I went up on that mountain last night, there were ten or twelve cars that had been washed off the highway through there.”
The road was long and there was a lot of damage to see on the way, but Nottingham was able to safely return home.
“It was a long twelve hours there last night,” he said Friday. “I didn’t get very much sleep. Looking back on it, I was very lucky. I’ve seen two or three pretty bad floods, but this was the worst one. It has just destroyed White Sulphur.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org