The Mountain State of West Virginia has experienced more than its share of devastating floods. Rugged terrain and severe weather make for a dangerous combination. Even a brief torrential rain can inundate narrow hollows and turn rippling creeks into raging deluges in minutes. This occurred in dramatic fashion southeast of Charleston on Cabin Creek in 1916 and Paint Creek in 1932.
In the 1980s, historian and author J. Dennis Deitz interviewed survivors of the 1932 Paint Creek flood. In The Flood and the Blood, first published in 1988, they share their memories of the dreadful night of July 10-11, 1932, when a cloudburst transformed the typically serene Paint Creek into a deadly wave that killed nearly 30 and left thousands homeless. They talk about their fears, daring escapes, and friends lost forever. Hitting in the darkest throes of the Great Depression, the flood swept away the few things people had left. For the survivors, the trauma never went away, as Betty Kate Davenport recollected 55 years after that night: “I don’t think anyone who was in the flood ever really got over it.”
Just a few miles away from Paint Creek is Cabin Creek, also made up of coal-mining communities. By the 1980s, few people were still alive who could remember the 1916 Cabin Creek flood, but Deitz tracked down a handful that recalled it clearly. In that instance, almost six inches of rain fell in less than five hours. The surging creek killed an estimated 71, making it West Virginia’s deadliest flood attributable to natural causes; the 1972 Buffalo Creek Disaster, in which 125 perished in floodwaters, was due to a collapsed coal waste dam.
In addition, Deitz dedicates chapters to other facets of the region’s turbulent history: the 1912-13 Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Mine War, which was one of the deadliest struggles in U.S. labor history, and historic coal mine disasters close to those streams. The book concludes with an account of miner Bill Derenge’s terrifying yet inspirational story of surviving explosions at Eccles and Layland, two of West Virginia’s deadliest mine disasters.
The Flood and the Blood vividly stresses the dangers people living in West Virginia’s coalfields have faced on a day-to-day basis. Deitz skillfully brings these stories together in the words of the people who lived them, demonstrating their remarkable resilience in moments of inconceivable crises.
Dust jacket flap
The Paint Creek Flood, July 10, 1932
When she headed for the hill, chased by the rising waters of paint Creek, Ada Clark had two of her children anchored under her arms. A neighbor carried two more. One waded out on her own, clinging to her mother’s skirt.
Two of her children were swept away. As they hurtled through the water, barbed wire caught their clothes, holding them log enough for a neighbor to lift them to safety.
But it wasn’t the blessed rescue of her seven children that Ada Clark most remembers about that awful night.
It’s the little Kincaid boy hollering for help.
It was the fourth day after the explosion, the last three without food or water.
Although the woman in white had not yet appeared in his dreams, Mr. Derenge felt a strong premonition of death and wrote the following:
To my dear friends,
This is Sat morning 8 o’clock Mar 6, 1915. We are all still alive but not knowing (how) long God will spare me. So dear friends should it be God’s will that I must die, you will find on me a gold watch and a purse with $10 and 90 cents and the rest of my belongings is at G. John Saul’s house such as a trunk and clothes. So please notify my father and restore everything safely to him. So God bring my helper.
I will close. W. Derenge.
My father’s address is Mike Derenge, Springdale, W. Va.