PINCH RUN, OHIO -- The Beningtons bought their home for $5,000 because a murder occurred inside. "Brand new, it might have cost us $11,000, but the husband shot the wife and the bank gave us a discount," Charlotte Benington explained yesterday from her porch here in this hollow in the Appalachian Mountains.
Pinch Run, like nearby communities along Wegee and Pipe creeks where at least 21 people died in flash flooding last Thursday, is an isolated hillside village where some residents never learn to drive, most are unemployed and no one wants to leave.
To find it, visitors are told to drive along the Ohio River on Rte. 7 until they spot the boarded-up Hardees restaurant. Just across the road is the unpaved, unmarked lane that winds up the hill toward Charlotte and Louis Benington and 50 other families in houses and shacks and trailers.
"I get nervous on the highways, so I'd just as soon stay here," Charlotte Benington said as she sat on her porch rocker not far from the freshly chopped wood for the fireplace. "I go to bingo once a week at St. John's School. That's about it."
Louis Benington, 60, has not worked since 1974 when his long-time employer, the Marx Toy Co., shut down and moved out, along with coal mines, steel mills and glass factories that once made Belmont County flourish.
As Benington spoke about the hollow in which he grew up, the gurgling creek 10 feet from his trailer home and the forest of maples and poplars around him, Buzz Vitale came by to ask help in dragging his daughter's pickup truck off the bank of nearby Cuckoo Run.
Although the storm inflicted millions of dollars worth of damage just two miles away, in Pinch Run and surrounding Whiskey Run, Bull Run and Cuckoo Run, it claimed only a few vehicles.
A mile down Rte. 7, funeral services began yesterday, more bodies were recovered and the list of missing dwindled to 13.
The body of Kerri Polivka, 13, who was babysitting when Wegee Creek became a wall of water pulverizing everything in its path, was among those recovered by divers today. Amber Colvin, 9, whom Kerri was watching, was rescued Friday after clinging to debris while raging waters carried her seven miles in the river.
Vitale said he was grateful floodwaters largely bypassed Cuckoo Run. He worked for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel for 37 years before it was shut down in 1983. "All you got up here now are people on welfare, pensions and Social Security," he said. "All the young people are leaving."
But the older folks say there is no place they would rather be.
Their grandfathers would have wanted them to stay, they said, and the possums and deer and hummingbirds outside their door are like family. They can cross the Ohio into Wheeling 10 miles away to attend country-music jamborees, travel to Pittsburgh if they need a new coat and talk for hours about the four local boys who have made it to professional football.
Why bother discussing politics, they said, explaining that they could not see any difference among Presidents Bush, Reagan, Carter and Kennedy, not to mention Nixon and Ford. But football is another story.
"I'd say it's split 50-50 between Pittsburgh Steelers' fans and Cleveland Browns' fans," said Thomas J. King, acting deputy director of the Belmont County Department of Human Services. "People pack the high school stadiums here. We're in the largest high school football conference in the country. It's a big deal here."
Although closer to Pittsburgh than Cleveland, some fans apparently feel it is wrong to pledge their allegiance out of state, and local residents say more than a few fights have broken out over the matter.
The Environmental Protection Agency, a villain blamed for overly strict regulations that made sulfurous Ohio coal too expensive to clean, used to raise tempers, too. But that was in the early 1980s when coal miners were fresh out of their jobs. Now, eking out a living is a way of life.
King estimated between 30 and 50 percent of the 31,800 people of working age in Belmont County are unemployed and that the bulk of them are concentrated in hollows along the river.
In the mining industry alone, 2,000 jobs were lost in the county between 1981 and 1985, a decline of 56 percent.
Many people are too proud to seek government assistance, and they live from one paint job or wood-chopping job to the next, according to King. Outreach workers who canvassed the area after the flood discovered that many people were eligible for food stamps and other government aid but had never sought them.
The flood also brought the often-overlooked area to the attention of Gov. Richard F. Celeste (D), who said he wanted to look into getting a better emergency-warning communications system for these people of the hollows.
Charlotte Benington, though, is happy. The storm missed her family. The flowering poplar outside shades the trailer, and this summer she is planning a one- or two-week vacation. "There is a real nice campground 20 miles from here," she said.