HARDBURLY — For several residents of Hardburly, life suddenly changed without warning last week, when a mudslide completely devastated their community. On the evening of May 28, folks living near Salyers Lane prepared to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. On the morning of May 29, they were joining together in cleanup efforts and trying to recover from the aftermath of an avalanche.
“All I know is that it happens every time a really hard rain comes and usually it’s the people who live around that section that cleans it up themselves,” said Mary Lewis, who is a resident of Hardburly living near the area where the mudslide occurred.
The damage caused by the initial thrust of the slide is not the reason families in the community are continuing to shed tears more than a week later. They are upset because they have been told by Red Cross that they need to leave their homes in order to avoid the lurking threat of another, more powerful disaster.
“They wouldn’t say anything to me or my cousin as to how long the evacuation is going to be,” said Debbie Watts of Salyers Lane, “They told us they couldn’t help us with a hotel or food vouchers until the slide actually happened and it damaged our homes too. They did give assistance vouchers to those families directly in harm’s path, but as for me and the other family on Salyers Lane, they told us there was nothing they could do for us. They said if the slip shifted in any way it could possibly take out our homes, but we would have to wait and see if it did, and if it does, we will be homeless and lose everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
Hardburly’s history has been majorly defined by the mines. The community began as a coal camp, with a few of the houses from coal camp days still standing. For many years, Hardburly was home to one of the most fascinating coal tipples in the country. As it turns out, the recent decline in the coal industry has played a major role in chipping away the community it founded.
A couple of silt ponds above Hardburly that were built for the coal mines are now leaking into the ground and in danger of completely collapsing. Gas drilling has also occurred in the area. The situation is serious enough for the Red Cross to recommend an evacuation of all homes that sit within the direct path of mudslides that could result from the ponds’ collapse. Some citizens, however, have no plans of packing their bags.
“I’m not leaving my home,” said Julie Riley, “I have nowhere to go and no one to help me.”
Lack of help is a complaint voiced by many people near Salyers Lane. According to the citizens, not only do they need assistance with avoiding future mudslides, but they also need help recovering from the one which recently happened.
“It’s a dangerous game of wait and see what happens,” said Mindy Salyers, “They mine and put gas well after gas well here, and no one wants to help after a mistake they make causes good people to lose everything they have.”
“I just feel like we don’t matter to be honest,” said Debbie Watts, “I work very hard every day and I’m a single mother of two and I am helpless. I am heartbroken that I had to help my neighbors and a family I’ve known my entire life pack up and move. It’s ridiculous.”
According to the official Perry County Road Addressing Index, Salyers Lane is a county road, meaning that maintenance of the road is the Perry County Fiscal Court’s responsibility. Hardburly Rd., which residents refer to as Main Street, is a state highway. So the affected area sits along roads that fall within both state and county jurisdictions. More than a week after the mudslide struck Salyers Lane, residents remain uncertain as to when, or if, they will be able to once again rest comfortably in their homes.
In an interview with WYMT, Perry County Emergency Management Director Jerry Stacy said, “If it is mine related, we’re hoping that AML (The Division of Abandoned Mine Lands) will step up and do what needs to be done to make sure that that’s a safe situation moving forward.”
The Division of Abandoned Mine Lands pledged to send an inspector to assess the status of the ponds in question. The results of AML’s inspection are unknown at this time. EQT, which is the company responsible for the gas wells, has claimed that personnel found no damage to their wells as result of the slide. The Hazard Herald will follow-up with an update on this story when the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands releases its findings.
“We really won’t know anything until Abandoned Mines and EQT quit fighting over whose fault it was,” said Salyers.
Meanwhile, the people of Salyers Lane are left with homes that continue to stand, yet they are deemed dangerous to live in. Their road is still reeling from the treachery of disaster. They are searching for answers and they want to know that they matter to those who are responsible for helping them. For the families living near Salyers Lane in Hardburly, times are much tougher than they were a few days ago.
“I did leave my home and go to a motel, which was paid for out of my own pocket,” Debbie Watts said, “But now I’m out of money and can no longer afford it, so I don’t know what my kids and I are going to do. We are trying to stay with relatives or whoever can make room for us.”
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.