The floods that tore through parts of West Virginia in June were some of the worst the state has ever seen. Called “historic,” “among the worst in a century,” and a “one in a thousand-year event,” residents of the southern and central parts of the state saw their homes destroyed and, in some cases, literally floating away. As soon as they could, members of Charleston, W.Va., Local 466 were there to help.
| Catastrophic floods destroyed parts of West Virginia, and Charleston, W.Va., Local 466 has been volunteering their skills to restore electricity to residents. In the town of Clendenin, pictured, the water rose to the second story in most homes.
“We’re doing everything we can,” said Local 466 Business Manager Joe Samples. “These people lost everything.”
The decision to volunteer was made by the leaders and membership, Samples said, with help from local contractors, K & M and M & L Electric, who secured a lot of donated materials, and paid for more.
If an electrical panel is under water, as many were, it has to be replaced and the new panel must be up to code. But a lot of the houses are old, Samples said, and few are up to code. So they’re doing more than just replacing panels, they often have to upgrade as well, in order to make sure everything passes inspection.
Usually about five to eight members will volunteer during the week, often putting in 14 to 16-hour days. On the weekends, they get about 20 members, Samples said. Some days they don’t get home until 10:30 p.m. They have repaired close to 100 homes so far, in the Clendenin, Queen Shoals and Elk River areas, all located about 15 to 30 miles northeast of Charleston. Depending on the extent of damage, repairs can take anywhere from a half day to a day and a half.
The state received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day, reported Business Insider, causing multiple rivers to swell to dangerous levels. President Obama declared it a major disaster, allowing federal aid to go to some of the worst-affected areas, reported ABC News. More than 20 people died, according to the Washington Post.
About 50 union homes were severely damaged or destroyed, said the West Virginia AFL-CIO. A few IBEW members experienced a total loss, Samples said, but most escaped the worst of the damage. But seeing the devastation of their neighbors’ homes, Local 466 members stepped up to repair the electrical services in the homes still standing.
Members will continue to do as many homes as they can, as long as they have the resources. Samples says that Graybar and State Electric, two area supply companies, have donated a lot of the materials. The West Virginia AFL-CIO is taking donations on its website. About $20,000 has been raised so far.
The torrential rainfall resulted in tens of thousands of power outages, structural damage and the displacement of hundreds of people, reported the Washington Post. There is no telling how long the recovery will take, but Local 466 members will keep helping for as long as possible.
“We just want to get them back to normal,” Samples said.
To donate to Local 466’s efforts, go to the West Virginia AFL-CIO website or send a check to:
HRDF, In Care of the WV AFL-CIO Disaster Fund/IBEW
501 Leon Sullivan Way
Charleston, WV 25301