Helen Haga knew the Middle Fork of the Holston River was rising when she left home Sunday morning for services at the Marion Baptist Church, so she put a few Christmas presents and her shoes on top of the bed "just in case."
By the time the church service ended at noon, her house was under water from the second flood in seven months.
Mrs. Haga, 56, said she is thankful to be alive, but despondent over the loss of all her possessions, and she began house hunting today as the governor declared a state of emergency in Smyth County and the surrounding area.
Her next door neighbor, Bircha Fay Blevins, about 70, did not go to church Sunday and was trapped in her house as the waters rose with terrifying speed. It took five hours to rescue Mrs. Blevins because the torrent was so swift that rescue boats were abandoned after they nearly capsized. By the time an Army Reserve unit got a six-wheel drive vehicle to Mrs. Belvins' house she had been forced to huddle on top of her kitchen cabinets to keep from drowning. During the ordeal she apparently suffered a heart attack and was taken to the Smyth County Hospital, where she remains in the intensive care unit.
Signs of the flood are everywhere along the banks of the Holston River and nearby Staley's Creek whose waters remain swift but were within their banks today. Cars are imbedded in mud-covered yards; clothing dangles in tree branches; uprooted trees lean on house roofs, and on porches, furniture and mattresses are being aired by forlorn residents who gazed aimlessly at the still drizzling rain.
Today was election day here, as it was throughout Virginia, but Smyth County Administrator Marvin R. Perry said the flood was "bound to adversely affect the turnout.People who have been through a flood don't have time to worry about voting."
Schools remain closed, some houses are without telephone service and residents of some areas are boilind tap water to avoid contamination.
Last April, Mrs. Haga and her husband, Dean Haga did not have flood insurance. After all, they have lived in the one-story, white clapboard house at 326 Maple St. for 23 years, and the river, about 100 yards away, had never damaged the tiny house. But after April 4, when 18 inches of water covered their floor, the Hagas decided to buy federally-subsidized flood insurance.
They bought the insurance in July and today Mrs. Hoga stood with her son-in-law, Dallas Church, on the front porch awaiting the arrival of an insurance adjuster.
"It won't be enough," Mrs. Haga a licensed practical purse whose husband is a psychiatric aide at Southwestern State Hospital. "You can't get enough to cover something like this," she said, pointint to the space between the house and its concrete block foundation.
Residents of the area eligible to buy flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program, but it could not be determined how many people here have brought the insurance. County Administrator Perry said many people such as the Hagas got into the program after April's flood.
The program, begun in 1968 and expanded in 1973, offers subsidized rates for flood insurance for owners of single-family homes, but many poor residents cannot afford enough insurance, even at the reduced rates to cover their losses. The minimum premium is $25 and all policies include a $200 deductible clause. Full coverage is available if a property is insured for 80 per cent of its value or for the maximum coverage of $35,000.
Gov. Mills E. Godwin toay declared a state of emergency in Smyth County and surrounding areas, a preliminary step to getting President Carter to declare the area eligible for U.S. disaster aid.
Rhea Lawrenct, Smyth County coordinator for the Virginia Office of Emergency Services, said a survey set actual damages in the county at $13,011,336, not including public property such as streets and highways.
Ten people were injured and 100 families evacuated from their homes, and 57 of those families will require temporary housing for at least 30 days. About 150 persons have spend the last two nights in nearby schools and churches.