November 2, 1995
10th Anniversary of the Flood of ’85
‘We never did know’
When Marlinton Mayor Doug Dunbrack talks about the Flood of ’85, his voice is grim and his speech is slow as he draws on his ever-present pipe. Lost in thought, the words come from him almost unbidden at first, as if extracted by an unseen force.
“It had been raining all weekend. In fact, it had been raining for three to five days,” he said slowly. “The Weather Service had called in and said we were going to have a flood similar to the Flood of 1967, which would have put about two inches of water in front of the City Building here in Marlinton.”
Dunbrack said as the evening progressed, he could see something was wrong, but all the information he received reflected water levels no more than a foot above the 1967 level.
Around 5 p.m. Bob Mann from the Bank of Marlinton stopped by the Mayor’s office to report that Knapps Creek was the worst he had ever seen. Mann told the Mayor that although reports were not predicting severe flooding, he felt the water would do more damage than it ever had in the past.
“We were still getting the same report,” Dunbrack said. “Everybody was out on duty, and I stayed at the City Building all the time.”
However, Dunbrack was called on to attend to his mother-in-law who was ill and living with him and his wife, Donna, on Second Avenue. He went home to discuss admitting her to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital on normal streets. Dr. Luis Soriano advised Dunbrack that he should bring his mother-in-law to the hospital immediately.
“And this is when the big break hit,” Dunbrack said. “It must have been somewhere around 7:30 or so. The water just came across the Greenbrier River, and it kept rising , not slowly, but very, very fast. And as I waded back up to the house the water had risen probably two feet in a period of 15 minutes or so.”
“We never did know that a major flood was about to hit,” he said. The Weather Service never did predict flooding so severe.
Dunbrack was home and would stay there for the remainder of the night, trapped just yards away from the center of communication at the City Building…
Dunbrack had gotten reports that the river would crest at 2 a.m. the following day. As the night went along the river rose higher and higher.
Perhaps the only prediction that came true was the crest time. The Greenbrier reached its maximum level of 18.5 feet in Marlinton shortly before 2 a.m. and dropped slowly.
At noon on Tuesday, two feet of water remained in the street. Dunbrack predicted as he waded the dregs of the flood waters that it would take five years to recover from approximately six hours of damage.
Dunbrack and Fire Chief Fred Burns, Jr. discussed relief and recovery measures, but were not aware of the extent of the damage to utilities all over the county.
The Mayor walked down the street and found Roy Beverage, the manager of AllTel, who informed him that there was only one way existed to communicate with Charleston.
Beverage took Dunbrack to Price Hill where he climbed a telephone pole to patch into a main line. Dunbrack shinnied up the pole next, to call the Governor’s office.
What he found out was not encouraging. Dunbrack thought only Pocahontas County was affected by the flood, but was made aware that 25 -27 towns and counties had suffered flood damage.
The receptionist he reached asked him to stay by his phone and wait for a return call, since the capital had its own flood of phone calls requesting relief. At the top of the pole, he had no way of waiting for a return call and refused to give up his only link out of Pocahontas County.
Dunbrack told her that 85 percent of his citizens were stranded and the business section of the town was totally devastated. He hung on the telephone pole for some time before she came back to say the National Guard would arrive in Marlinton later that afternoon.
Dunbrack credits the quick response of the National Guard and emergency services from other communities, as well as the good weather that followed the flood for the rapid recovery Marlinton experienced before winter snows blanketed the area.
The town had no communication until the telephone company laid a line on the ground across the bridge to set up temporary telephones in town on Thursday. It took the Army Corps of Engineers a few days to estimate the damage to the Town of Marlinton.
City government itself never missed a day of work and the course of action it took worked well. Although the Mayor and the Council knew the procedures to follow, no one had first-hand experience with a disaster that took almost an entire town. From the city’s standpoint, it had totally lost equipment and emergency services it had provided for its citizens.
“I will have to say one thing and one thing proudly, our people were very strong, very willing and very capable and they came back. They renovated their own property and lived there taking care of themselves within a three-week period,” Dunbrack said.
Dunbrack said the recovery could not have been so complete or so quick without the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the City of Summersville, which provided vehicles and manpower, the City of Morgantown, which sent emergency equipment, and the City of Charleston, which sent a maintenance crew and police department…
As flood recovery progresses, the Town of Marlinton was endowed with nearly $3 million in grants. In addition, individuals were eligible for loans and grants which helped reconstruct their homes.
Lakeview Estates, which is situated outside the flood-prone area, was built as a result of flood recovery grants.
“We have had our growing pains,” Dunbrack commented. “We had a major disaster and everybody cooperated. But if you weren’t in the disaster, you couldn’t understand what needed to be cooperated with.”
As ten years go by and I look back at it, I remember saying that we had a fast recovery, but we would have a long-term effect,” he said. “Our town has held together and we will continue to hang together. Everybody is putting forth a very, very strong effort to make our community continue to grow.”