Recalling the terrible flood of 1961 in the Kanawha Valley

Jul 21, 2011 by

We hear of massive natural disasters around the world that kill tens of thousands of people and cause billions in damage – and try to imagine and empathize. But then there are far smaller disasters that no one outside of a region knows about – just a handful of people killed. And yet these events are no less seared into a local community’s consciousness.

The flood that truck Charleston, W.Va., and the Kanawha Valley in July 1962, killed 22 people and still haunts the lives of the many people who survived the night. The Charleston Gazette video above recounts one person’s tale from that night,¬† Terry Stone, who was 11 at the time. By the time the night was over, he had lost his grandfather and godfather. The video was a companion piece to a Jim Balow story for the Gazette about a 50th anniversary gathering in remembrance of the lives lost that night.

Flood waters roared down Garrison Avenue (then called Magazine Hollow), uprooting cars and houses and killing 22 people in the Valley that night and the following day.

By JIM BALOW | The Charleston Gazette | July 17, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When the heavens opened on the fateful Wednesday evening 50 years ago, people who lived up Magazine Hollow did what they normally do — they kept an eye on the water pouring down the street.

Some, like young Terry Stone and his family, headed for higher ground. Others decided to wait it out. Their homes had withstood previous floods, after all.

But this was no ordinary storm. The Weather Service called it a cloudburst: On July 19, 1961, 6 inches of rain fell in four hours starting at about 8:30, following six straight rainy days.

As it poured through narrow Magazine Hollow, the runoff carried away anything that wasn’t tied down — and some things that were. Cars, even homes, were no match for the raging waters. Survivors recall watching houses float past under the glare of lightning bolts and hearing the screams of their neighbors.

By daylight, rescuers began to tally the grim aftermath of the storm. Twenty-two people died in the Kanawha Valley, including nine on Garrison Avenue. An estimated 1,500 people were left homeless as 138 houses were destroyed and 1,374 heavily damaged … | READ ON

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