The Flood of 1985 remembered
By Sarah Mansheim,
with Cheryl Griffith, Mountain Messenger reporter, 1985
It caught almost everyone by surprise.
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1985, residents in the low-lying areas of Greenbrier County were flooded out of their homes and businesses. Buildings were lifted from their foundations, trailers and livestock floated down the river, and cars were turned on their roofs. When the waters crested, mud and debris filled houses and businesses, and Ronceverte’s Island Park was virtually destroyed.
According to an article in the Nov. 10, 1985 edition of the Mountain Messenger, no lives were lost in Ronceverte, but devastating losses to homes and businesses occurred in the Monroe Avenue and River Oaks areas. The Ronceverte substation of West Virginia Power was destroyed, leaving all of Ronceverte and some Lewisburg and Caldwell residents without power for two days.
Caldwell residents were evacuated from areas around Rt. 60 as the swollen Greenbrier backed its way into Howards Creek.
In Alderson, streets were blocked by water, including parts of Rt. 3, 12 and 63.
Alderson resident Red Nickell, an owner of a grocery store destroyed by the flood, told the Mountain Messenger that the flood took him by such surprise that when he’d left the store, he’d merely moved some stock items to the store’s top shelves and left change in the cash register.
He maintained his sense of humor, telling the newspaper, “I do not know if I’ll go back into business. Right at the moment my store is for sale. Quite a few people have wanted to buy it in the past. Now, here’s their chance. It’s real cheap,” he quipped. “If you bring a shovel, you can get a lot of groceries.”
Alderson Elementary School, which had just opened that fall, was also damaged in the flood, as over two feet of muddy, oily water washed through its interior. The buildings that housed the kindergarten classes were destroyed.
Meanwhile, the community rallied as the Greenbrier County Landfill remained open throughout the weekend to accept flood damaged furniture, clothing, appliances and other debris, and water, food and clothing distribution centers popped up around the county to help flood victims. Some 250 National Guardsmen came to Greenbrier County to assist with cleanup and safety issues.
Thursday, Nov. 5 marks the 30-year anniversary of the 1985 flood. Ronceverte resident, historian and grant writer Doug Hylton shared some photographs of downtown Ronceverte during this historic event.