- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - In the month since deadly floods tore through West Virginia, the same late-night question comes like clockwork from Kassie Tolley’s 4-year-old daughter.

“She comes to the couch and she says, ‘Mom, I want to go home. Can you take me home?’” Tolley said.

The single mother has no answer for her - yet.

Tolley’s home in Rainelle was heavily damaged in the June 23 floods.

She and her three daughters have been staying ever since with her parents in a home crammed with 17 people: her two brothers and their families, one of whose houses was destroyed.

The full house is “a little crazy, but it keeps the kids occupied,” Tolley said. “It keeps their mind off it, so it’s a plus.”

Fifteen minutes away in Tolley’s neighborhood, the floodwaters rose 8 feet in some places. When the rains hit, Tolley was headed back to her mom’s house from medical appointments. By the time they got through, there was no turning back. The water was already submerging the roads.

A neighbor sent Tolley photos of her dog in the backyard with water up to its neck. A relative struggled to let the dog out of the yard, and it waited on the front porch for two days with no food until Tolley could get back into town.

Once the floodwaters receded, Tolley said the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected her application and a subsequent appeal for individual assistance. She had just $2,700 left to pay on the modest two-story home, but since it was a lease-to-own agreement, she said she was deemed ineligible for FEMA coverage.

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Tolley said.

FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad said the agency doesn’t discuss specific applications. He said the agency makes decisions on grants to homeowners and renters on a case-by-case basis.

Multitudes of volunteers have crisscrossed the state, offering support in cleanup efforts and collecting and handing out donated items in response to the disaster that left at least 23 dead. But Tolley worked mostly alone for the first three weeks.

Layers of soaked walls, insulation and carpet had to be torn out. The kitchen sink was backed up with sewer water.

Before the power went off, her refrigerator circuits went haywire in the water. And before the electricity can be turned on again, the home’s electrical plug receptacles must be replaced.

There’s also the challenge of finding a mold remediation expert in a rural state where such experts are suddenly in high demand. In Rainelle alone, about 225 homes and businesses in the community of 1,500 residents were damaged or destroyed.

As out-of-state volunteer teams wrap up their efforts and return home, hundreds of homes are in need of cleanup assistance, primarily in Clay, Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas counties, according to Heather Foster, executive director of Volunteer West Virginia.

Tolley said she asked weeks ago for volunteers in Rainelle to help work on her home but said “there were just so many that needed help. We have lots of volunteers, but it’s just a matter of getting to everybody.”

She posted a message to her 400 Facebook friends July 10 asking if anyone had a stepladder because the chair she was using broke. An uncle eventually showed up to give her a lift.

Later that week, another online request: “If anyone wants to help rip up floor, go under the house, take down insulation, empty and tear down a building (and) a dog house!!”

Her big break came a week ago when she went to a Rainelle church hoping to fix a broken shovel. That’s where she ran into Chris Mullett, executive director of the Clarksburg Mission 130 miles to the north. Mullett’s group was in town helping other flood victims. Once he met Tolley, the group went over to help remove ruined items.

“That last day before they showed up, I was losing a little bit of hope,” Tolley said. “On the other hand, you understand that there’s so many people that are affected, that are needing the help. And that’s how I figured it.”

The group returned to Tolley’s house on Thursday for more work.

“They’ve been a godsend, that’s for sure,” Tolley said.

But without FEMA’s help, it’s going to take some time to get the home fixed.

“I’m a paycheck-to-paycheck mom,” she said. “It’s board by board. That’s what I’m going to have to do.”


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