May 13, 2003 at 2:57 AM CDT - Updated June 20 at 5:25 PM
In 2002, it wasn’t just tornadoes that swept through the Heartland.
After days of heavy rain, rivers and creeks began to rise in early May.On May 12th, the rising water gave way to flash flooding, sending folks in several towns running for high ground.When it was over, the floods had claimed the lives of three people, including an Ironton man.
Forty-three year old Chuck Griffey had just returned home from a Mother's Day dinner with his wife and 15-year old son around 9 o’clock that Sunday night.He was getting ready for bed, when he noticed that nearby Stouts Creek was rising fast.What happened next would change his family's life forever.‘Chuck said, ‘I think we'd better get out of here,” recalls his widow, Demeta Clements-Griffey.Demeta says she ran in the house to pack a few things, while Chuck and their son Kyle went to move the cars to higher ground.The couple’s daughter Kassondra Yow wasn’t there at the time, but remembers what happened like it was yesterday.“My brother had gotten up to the road and Chuck was trying to get my mom when the water came up,” she says.Both Kyle and Demeta were safe on higher ground, while Chuck was in the low-lying yard.“Chuck got stuck in that tree,” she points to the middle of the yard.“And he held on as long as he could.”“But the water finally overpowered him,” Demeta says tearfully.“He was strong, but his strength gave out.”
Chuck Griffey died the way his family says he always lived:trying to help people.“He was trying to save my mom and my brother, but he would have done it for a complete stranger,” says Kassondra.“He was just that kind of person.He was one of the best people I ever knew.”Demeta says hundreds of people showed up at the funeral to say goodbye to Chuck, who worked for the city of Arcadia.“He was a great guy. He was liked by everybody,” she says proudly.“You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy.”
Not long after he’d been swept away, a neighbor found Griffey's body a few hundred feet downstream. That recovery only took a few hours, but recovery for Griffey's family is a process that's still going on today.Unfortunately, financial help has been hard to come by for Chuck Griffey's widow, who not only lost her husband, but also her home and most of her belongings. She says the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped with Chuck's funeral expenses, but that's about all the help FEMA could offer.“If you live in a flood area and you can't afford flood insurance, they told her they don't help people like that,” relays Kassondra.“They'll help you find a place to stay while they fix your house, but they don't do any more than that.”
Demeta and Kyle were forced to abandon their damaged trailer after the flood, and moved in with Kassondra and her family.In fact, they say they’ve only been back to their former home a few times since Chuck died.Sadly, they mention that looters stole some of the few salvageable possessions they had left at the home.
And one year later, Demeta and her four kids are still dealing with a flood of emotions…a flood that rises anytime they think about Chuck.“It's a lot to lose him like this…one second he's fine, and the next he's gone,” Demeta explains.“And then to lose everything you ever had in your life…my kids' baby pictures, and everything, gone.”She shakes her head, at a loss to explain her emotions.But Kassondra says the family is optimistic that they’ll continue to recover, one day at a time.“It’s really hard,” she tells Heartland News.“But everyone’s getting a lot better.”