MINGO COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – In beautiful downtown Williamson in Mingo County, April showers bring May flowers. But these rain showers are a reminder and a part of Williamson and the Tug Fork River Valley’s rich history.
The first week of April in 1977 brought record flooding to the Tug Fork River Valley – some of the area river records still stand today.
“It was pouring down the rain, it was just coming down in buckets. Nobody knew how bad it was going to get,” remarks Kyle Lovern, a longtime journalist, historian and author.
“A cold front was sweeping through April 2nd to April 3rd – with that front was mainly a light rain event. The problem was that the front sort of stalled just to our southeast and we had waves of low pressure develop along and traveled from the southwest and to the northeast and that created a pretty prolonged moderate rainfall event,” comments Nick Webb, Senior Hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston.
“The river was rising about a foot per hour, so then we knew we were in trouble,” reminisces Sam Kapourles, Mayor of Williamson from 1979 to 2000.
“People came out of the Mountaineer Hotel on the second floor in a boat, so I knew we had problems,” says George Poole, a lifelong resident of Williamson and a businessman.
“We had widespread 4 to 8 inch amounts across the upper Levisa, Tug Fork, and Guyandotte basins and from those heavy rainfall amounts, we actually had record crests that were observed and to this date that is still the benchmark flood, especially on the tug and upper Guyandotte,” reports Webb.
“I was actually at the Williamson Field House. There was a basketball tournament there and I was there with a friend watching that. And I remember a guy coming in and saying ‘if you want to get home, you better leave now because the water is coming up'”, says Lovern.
“We brought all of our stuff from the basement of the drug store up to the first floor. That didn’t do any good – water hit the ceiling in the first floor of the drug store so we lost everything. Everybody else in town lost everything too,” Kapourles recalls.
“With every foot of water, we had one inch of mud. So, in a building like this that had about 14 or 15 feet of water, you had 14 or 15 inches of mud. And it was everywhere. It didn’t matter where you looked – there was mud everywhere,” George comments.
“Everybody was instructed to throw everything out into the street – anything that got wet, throw it out into the street,” remarks Kapourles.
“You saw entire houses floating down the river. And there was two bridges where I lived there – there was a railroad bridge and an automotive bridge and they would hit that bridge and just splinter… It was just total devastation, it was a natural disaster of epic proportions,” says Lovern.
“At the time – we’re talking 1977 – that was estimated at a greater than 100 year flood reoccurrence event,” says Webb.
“People just all worked together – got together and worked together; and that’s what got us out of it as fast as we could,” remarks Sam.
“A lot of people did heroic things – trying to drag people out and thank God for them,” recalls George.