West Virginians persevere through tragedy

Story highlights

  • Trapped West Virginians use rope trick to save themselves from flood
  • Flood victims spend weekend piecing lives back together

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. (CNN)Christian Nahuse had gone to rescue his grandma's keepsakes, furniture and valuables from the rising waters. All he, his dad, a family friend and the friend's young son had to do was get it across the road to his own home on higher ground.

They were too late. By the time they got the first shipment to the front door of the Greenbrier County house, the water was already coming in, and rising fast.
    They were trapped and scrambled to the roof.
    Waters uprooted houses and floated them by. Another house burst into flames; the salvage crew, including a boy around age 11, realized it would have to rescue itself. How was a serious question.
    Mill House Road in White Sulpher Springs was a torrent on Thursday after Howard Creek swelled, part of the floods that would claim at least 23 lives across West Virginia. Soon the house would fill with water.
    Flooding kills at least 23 in West Virginia
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    All signs amplified the need to escape. The nearby house foundations were unstable; and four houses away, a woman was trying to save herself from the fire and water by climbing into a tree after a propane tank exploded and turned her house into flames.
    Nahuse, 19, could feel heat from that burning home.
    "I knew we had to get off that roof," Nahuse told CNN. "I knew the houses were on fire and I knew they were coming down (in the flood) and I knew if we didn't get off there, we had a higher risk of death."
    Help came from mom on the other side of the torrent, whose calming voice Nahuse credits for helping everyone keep their wits. After five hours, they devised a plan to get to dry ground using a fishing pole, a coil of rope and safety harnesses from his dad's construction job.
    The four potential victims were in the crawlspace of his grandmother's attic and had kicked out a hole below the gable.
    Mom attached a rope to a fishing line and cast it to them. They secured it to the house and mom tied it to a utility pole on her side of the flood. She then sent over four safety harnesses along with carabiners.
    The salvage party then attached their harnesses to the rope, hooked their feet over it, and went hand-over-hand to the point about 30 feet away where they could drop to higher ground.
    By the time the waters receded, Nahuse said his grandmother lost about everything except some of her most important valuables: silverware, photo albums and three cats. On Sunday his 6-year-old sister, Addison Linkous, salvaged pieces of her own world, playing with a doll in the road.
    Addison Linkous, 6, plays with her toys near the  destruction as West Virginia residents work to rebuild lives after devastating floods
    They were lucky. The woman in the tree could not get far enough from the fire.
    By the time rescuers reached her, the searing heat had nearly killed her. She died in the hospital Sunday, her neighbors and friends told CNN.
    Her death was one of a growing tally, including a 4-year-old boy in Jackson County who was swept away in a rising creek. In Wheeling, an 8-year-old child fell into Big Wheeling Creek, in the Elm Grove area, and was swept away, according to the Wheeling Intelligencer-News Register.
    The boy was walking with his mother and sister in the creek behind a Dairy Queen when he slipped into the rushing water.
    In hard-hit Clendenin, Dwyatt Bostic was sitting in the living room of his second-floor apartment by the Elk River at 10:30 A.M. Saturday, talking to a neighbor, thinking they were safe.
    "We were just sitting on the couch talking," Bostic told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "I heard the asphalt cracking and popping. I said, 'That ain't good.' We grabbed our cellphones, went right down the steps and went over there and boom, it caved in."
    The asphalt parking lot next to his apartment had cracked and fallen into the river. Soon, half of his apartment fell with it.
    "It was a good thing it happened that morning and not that night," Bostic said.
    Homes and businesses had fallen into the Elk River from its crumbling bank. Last weekend, all of Bostic's belongings,which he thought were safe, sat in a pile of rubble as Clendenin denizens were cleaning up, the Gazette-Mail reported
    Residents James and Sandra Derrick, a couple in their early 70s who barely escaped the flooding, found the foundation of their house washed away.
    James took to sleeping in his truck to protect the remaining property. Instead of being beset by looters, he has instead been graced by the kindness of strangers..
    "Somebody stopped here yesterday and gave my husband a bag of cookies and something to drink. It was all they had, but it sure was nice of them," Sandra Derrick told the newspaper, her voice breaking. "We're going to need all the luck we can get. I've been through a lot of things, but nothing like this."
    Others knew they wouldn't be back. At what was once a home nearby, Nick Gillenwater was trying to fulfill a wish from his son and daughter: Find her teddy bear and his Hulk action figure.
    "I'll never live by a river again, I'll tell you that," he told the Gazette-Mail. "We just have to start over."