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W. Va. Flooding Victims Return Home To Stinking Sludge


West Virginia just can't get a break. Thunderstorms swept across that state overnight. And with those storms came even more rain. The latest storms struck places where at least 23 people died and hundreds of homes were destroyed by flooding on Friday. Thousands of people there are just now getting power back. NPR's Rebecca Hersher has more on residents' efforts to clean up.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: On Monday morning, Linda Rhodes returned to her flooded home for the first time.

LINDA RHODES: They lost everything down here.

HERSHER: Her basement is full of stinking sludge. Outside in the garage, the waterline is 8 feet high.

RHODES: Oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It ain't no good. There's my truck.

HERSHER: Her pickup truck is covered in mud. The garage smells like gasoline. She wants to start cleaning, but there's still water coming in. It's raining again.


HERSHER: But Rhodes doesn't want to sit around and wait for the weather. The cleanup will come later. For now, she goes up the street to help her brother with his FEMA application.


RECORDED VOICE: You have reached the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

HERSHER: FEMA is working on registering hundreds of people who lost homes and businesses. By far the easiest way to apply is with a phone or computer. But a lot of people have lost those things. Rhodes' brother, John, dropped his phone in the water when he was escaping from his trailer on Saturday. Now he's hoping the federal government will cover the cost of replacing that, all his clothing and his car. They've decided Linda will apply on his behalf. To do that, she answers about 20 minutes' worth of questions. She keeps taking deep breaths to keep from getting flustered.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Was the damage from flood or mudflow?


HERSHER: At the end, the representative says they should find out if he's getting relief money within a month.

RHODES: Did I do that right?


HERSHER: Linda and her brother high-five, and she goes on the porch for a cigarette. It's still raining on her town.

RHODES: God bless all these people, more rain.

HERSHER: The governor has asked the federal government to get people back in their homes as quickly as possible. And the National Guard has continued to pick up debris, even in the rain. The forecast for the next two days here is sunny. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News, Greenbrier County, W.Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher
Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.