• 50°

Damage from Katrina reminds of 1937 flood

The images flash across the television screen: Houses surrounded by flood water with only the rooflines visible, water flowing through streets and destruction everywhere.

For some local residents who survived the 1937 flood, watching the news footage showing the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi brings back memories of their own experiences all those years ago.

As they gathered for lunch Tuesday afternoon at the Ironton Senior Center, some Ironton residents shared their memories and their sorrow at seeing the wrath of Katrina, knowing that for the victims life will never be the same.

Ruth Dodson was 12 years old and living in an apartment at 22nd Street and Third Avenue in Huntington, W.Va., when flood waters destroyed her family's second-floor apartment.

"The water came up so fast," she recalled. "We didn't even know it was coming and then there it was. Š We had to crawl out a second-floor window and they came in a boat and got us and they took us to Charleston for four days. We didn't even know if anyone would rescue us. We were just stranded there and couldn't get out."

Edna Dean also

grew up in Huntington. Her father, Frank Wolfe, was pastor of Jackson Avenue Church of God-Holiness. She was nine years old when the 1937 flood washed away everything her family owned.

Dean said she remembered the water came up quickly, first reaching the steps of her house, then the first floor and finally nearly reaching the roof.

"By the time it got upstairs, we were moving out," she said."

Ruth Lynd grew up in Chesapeake, where her father, William Sites, ran a grocery store until the flood.

"He lost everything," she said. "It was hard on him."

Not only was the grocery store destroyed in the flood, but the family's home as well. Like Dodson, Lynd recalled fleeing first to the upper floor of their house and then crawling through a window to get into a waiting boat to take them to safety.

"I never dreamed it (the water) would come upstairs but it did," Lynd said.

After the flood, Ironton created a floodwall system that still operates today. The combination of concrete walls, earthen levees and pump station have been maintained through a tax levy until last year when voters declined to pass the renewal levy.

City leaders implemented a $3 per month fee to pick up the costs but that will likely be repealed if voters pass the floodwall levy this time around in the Nov. 8 election.

After more than 60 years, the shock of the 1937 flood is something the women said they still recall - vividly. They can still remember how it felt to be homeless, how it felt to rely on others for help, how it felt to be powerless against the powerful rage of a flood.

"Knowing you have to leave your home and not knowing what would be left when you got back," Dodson said. "I remember that."

Dodson said she still has a fear of being surrounded by water and sometimes still dreams of being in a flood.

Does the footage of Hurricane Katrina bring back painful memories? The women said that for them, it does, especially the sight of homes surrounded by the flood, with just the rooflines exposed. This they remember from their own experiences, this they view with the fear and apprehension of people who have been there and done that.

"I can't hardly watch it. The devastation, seeing those houses with the water almost up to the roof," Dodson said.

"I know what those people are going through," Dodson agreed. "I feel for those people who have lost their homes. We didn't lose our home but when we came back, it was a mess."

The women said they can sympathize not only with what Katrina's victims are going through now, but what they will go through in the coming weeks as they try to pick up the pieces of a life changed forever.

Lynd recalled that when the flood waters receded and her family returned to their home and grocery store, they found the disaster was not over: The flood left a layer of mud several inches thick on everything left behind.

"We had to scrub and scrub everything for weeks," Lynd said.

As for Dean, her family moved in with friends in an area of Huntington that was not flooded until the Ohio River returned to its banks, but The Wolfe's never went home again.

"We never went back to that house," Dean said. "We had rented it. We moved into a house on Jackson Avenue up above the church."

Dean said her parents relied on prayer and a strong support system of family and friends to carry on after the devastation of the flood.

"People helped each other," she said. "It just seems like people were friendlier then."

It is that support system Dean said she hoped Katrina's victims would find as they endeavor to survive their ordeal in the days and months to come.

"Just trust in the Lord," she said. "And depend on your neighbors and friends."