‘A legacy of love;’ Rainelle remembers how the community came together after the 2016 floods

RAINELLE, WV (WOAY) – Today marks four years since the devastating 2016 floods that claimed the lives of 23 people in Southern West Virginia.

One of the hardest hit areas was the Town of Rainelle, but four years later, we take a look at how the town is making a comeback after what they thought was going to be the end. 

Councilman John Wyatt said June 23, 2016 started off as a typical summer day in the quiet town, but then came the rain.

He said closer to dusk is when it got really serious as he said the water started to rise to extremely dangerous levels, and the next thing he knew, he was in a boat helping rescue others. 

“All that night we rescued 21 people out of that area of the town,” he said. “Two didn’t survive, two friends of mine. But it was a really a harrowing night. And to this day, I still hear the cries of people yelling and crying for help.” 

Andy Pendleton was the mayor of Rainelle at that time and remembers that night as just “pure sadness.”

“Every street was flooded. Every business was flooded. Ninety-percent of our homes was flooded,” she said. “To think you have to wait up for that, what kept me alive was the work I did, the work we all did.” 

Pendleton remembers groups from all over the country who went to work to help Rainelle and surrounding areas rebuild throughout the following year.

In spite of the devastation, what most choose to remember is the way the community came together in the years to follow. 

“I saw that volunteer spirit that, I think I called it an indomitable spirit of the people of Appalachia that just rose up for the people, and people really just worked together,” Wyatt said. 

And the rebuilding process continues.

While many agree that there is still work to be done and houses that need torn down, there are also homes that have been rebuilt, businesses that have returned, a new post office up and running and even a new coffee shop and visitors center in the works. 

Pendleton says she chooses to remember the past four years as a legacy of love. 

“The neighbors helped the neighbors. The people helped the neighbors,” she said. “It was a legacy of love again that filled our community and filled our hearts.” 

Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.