Even though the WV Department of Environmental Protection has been reluctant to connect any dots between mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) and flooding, studies have shown that mountaintop removal coal mining does indeed exacerbate flooding.
This year, on June 23, torrential rainfall fell over much of West Virginia. In some parts of the state, over the course of 13 hours, more than 10 inches of rain fell. 23 people lost their lives in the flooding, and homes and businesses were destroyed. In this one-in-1000 years flood, one of the hardest hit towns was Richwood, in Nicholas County.
Video of flooding in Richwood, West Virginia, on June 23
Two schools, two stores, at least two dozen homes and area sewer lines were destroyed, as was a nursing home. About 90 residents of the home were dramatically—and barely—rescued by citizen volunteers, facility staff, and the local 911 rescue squad, who braved chest-deep raging flood waters to rescue the residents.
The estimated damage to the town with a population of about 2,000 is upwards of $40 million.
Some in the town have wondered whether the MTR site in the watershed of South Fork of the Cherry River made the flooding worse. The MTR mine is about 8 road-miles from the town of Richwood. What about the clearcutting in the watershed, and what about climate change? What role did these play in the flooding of Richwood?
We decided to have a look-see ourselves, and so requested a flyover of the Richwood area with our good friends at SouthWings. On the flight, OVEC’s staff person Vivian Stockman took some photos of the MTR operation (owned by South Fork Coal Company) and logging near the town.
As you look over some of the photos from that flyover, you might ponder some questions…
How much did this MTR site in the South Fork watershed exacerbate the destruction of Richwood? What could have happened to those 90 nursing home residents had the rescuers not been able to reach them? Have the Appalachian people been Mucked yet again?
Will the students, teachers and parents of Richwood High and Middle Schools now have to endure forced consolidation and long commute to rebuilt schools in some other area of the county?
If this mine keeps growing, if clear cuts grow, will even worse flooding be in Richwood’s future? If greenhouse gases aren’t stabilized, what future does this town (and so many others!) have?
What and who are we if we allow extractive practices to trump human health and safety?