Dozens of mines shut down, workers reported to City Hall late, and about half the businesses in this flood-ravaged mountain community simply didn't open today in protest of state and federal disaster relief efforts.
But as night fell over the Tug Fork Valley, hit by the worst flooding here in recent history just three weeks ago today, it was hard to tell exactly how successful the demonstration had been because of a White House mix-up.
The mix-up began about 10 a.m. when Dr. Joyce Starr, a White House official, called protest leaders expressing what later turned out to be her "own personal sympathies" about the situation there. The protest leaders felt she also invited them to a meeting at the White House, and they quickly declared victory at a rally on the Mingo County Courthouse steps.
It turned out they hadn't been invited, and after a series of meetings and hasty phone calls.Dr. Starr's boss, Margaret (Midge) Costanza, assistant to the President for public liaison, decided the meeting wasn't necessary.
Protesters misunderstood her aide, she said in an interview. The White House had been on top of the situation for 10 days and has two more meetings scheduled later this week on it, she said. "With all the past meetings and what is planned for this week, it doesn't seem necessary to have another meeting now," she said.
This set badly with many of the 150 area residents who attended a meeting tonight. Some urged that the 24 hour work stoppage, which had begun at midnight, be continued into the week and that the demonstrators use this region's most valuable resource, coal, as a bargaining tool. "We've got what they need. They've been taking it (coal) all our lives and look what they've left us with," said Jim Webb, a local college professor. "Three cotton-pickin' weeks have passed since the flood an all we've got was one jerk phone call from the White House that slowed us down."
The group, meeting at the Tug Valley Recovery Center, voted to end the work stoppage temporarily.
For more than two weeks a deeply felt concern has been growing among area residents that state leaders have failed to recognize the seriousness of the flood and have not responded adequately to the devastated area's needs.
Dr. Tom Whaley, a Baptist minister who worked with victims of the flood that took 127 lives at Buffalo Creek, 50 miles from here, five years ago, said assistance was far slower in arriving in Mingo County after the flood April 3 and 4 than it had been at Buffalo Creek.
"Comparing the damaged property, this flood was at least 30 per cent worse than the Buffalo Creek one," he said. "But since there wasn't a loss of lives, we felt we weren't being heard . . . Down here we're isolated. We don't know if anyone cares or not."
The reason for the concern is evident in the streets of this city on the Kentucky border, near where the Hatfields and McCoys once battled, and other communities up and down the Tug Valley.
Three full weeks after the flood, mud and debris are still everywhere. Makeshift bridges cross streams. Schools and dozens of businesses are still closed. In nearby Lobada, flood victims still sleep in crude roadside tents and cars, and the first mobile homes to house displaced residents have yet to arrive.
"Whatever has been done was done much too late and was much too little. They came in days after they should have," William Rosen, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said this afternoon in his shoe store which is still three weeks away from opening.
Rosen, like many businessmen, didn't actively participate in the work stoppage. He was too busy cleaning up his business and home, both of which were devastated by the flood. "When a man loses his home and business he's pretty well under," said Rosen.
But he supported the aims of the protest, voted on by about 200 persons at a meeting Sunday night.Rosen said he heard from several congressional offices today. "The information has gotten to Washington. They know our problems now."
"I think the stoppage did what it was intended to do, but I don't believe they should continue it," he said before tonight's meeting, called to evaluate the demonstration.
Whaley, disaster coordinator for the West Virginia Baptist Convention, agreed. He said he had been in contact with the offices of Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and Sen. Jennings Randolph, chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee. "A lot of our trouble has been a lack of communications," he said.
The work stoppage began at midnight when about 80 miners and disaster victims began throwing up pickets around area mines. Rod McCoy, a 20-year-old mine electrician who headed the effort, said 25 mining companies with as many as 25,000 miners shut down, a figure coal industry spokesmen claim was grossly exaggerated.
"I've been in the mineworkers' union three years and it was one of the biggest walkouts I've seen," he said.
Later in the morning pickets moved on local merchants, carrying signs that proclaimed, "Stop Work Until We Get Real Help."
Costanza apologized profusely tonight for the misunderstanding over the White House messages and said that informing the protest leaders about the mix-up had been "the hardest thing I've done at the White House."
Meanwhile, federal disaster officials were growing testy at criticism. Herb Selib, a Federal Disaster Assistance Administration spokesman, said the dissidents misunderstood the purpose of his agency's work.
"There are some people in every community when something like this happens who believe the federal government has a moral obligation to render whole whatever a disaster does to them," he said. "If a river washes away a $50,000 home, they believe the federal government has a moral obligation to replace it with another $50,000 home."
This isn't the purpose of the system, which has already doled out $2 million worth of federal food stamps, he said. "At no time do we accept a moral obligation to make everything whole."
In Williamson, we have a group of people who think the federal mandate isn't as broad as it should be," he added. "They can ask for anything they want. That's their right. But they should not criticize us for doing our job . . . If we make a mistake we'll swing for it. But this kind of vague general criticism has made some of our people a little unhappy."