The heavy rains that have recently pummeled the region are particularly unwelcome this time of year. They remind us of some of the darkest days that this county has ever faced.
After a period of rain like that, at approximately 8:10 a.m. on Feb. 28, 1958, a Floyd County school bus carrying 48 children struck a wrecker and plunged 50 ft. down an embankment into the swollen waters of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.
Hundreds of people turned out to help find these children. Twenty-two of them escaped, while 26 children and their bus driver drowned. It took 55 hours for rescuers to locate the school bus, which sank and floated downstream. It took 69 days for families to find the bodies of all of these children. The nation watched, in terror, as the tragedy unfolded, day after day.
Feb. 28 marked 61 years that have passed since this great tragedy. We realize that day was not much different than any other day for many Floyd Countians, especially those who were born well after this tragedy occurred — like the children who ride our school buses today.
But we also know, without a doubt, that a many of our folks do remember.
They remember because they were on that school bus and they somehow found enough courage and grace to get out of the water.
They remember because they mourn with the survivors, who 61 years later, still find it difficult to talk about.
They remember because those who died and those who escaped are members of their own families.
They remember because they were once friends with some of them, and because they went to school with them.
They remember because they were among the hundreds who searched, night and day, and because they brought food or blankets to comfort those who searched.
They remember because they’ve devoted their lives to work at a rescue squad that was founded by the families who lost children in this tragedy.
And we remember, too.
This week, we caught ourselves wondering what Floyd County would be like had this tragedy not occurred — what these children would have grown up to become and how their lives could have impacted all of us.
Then, we realized we can never accurately measure the impact these children and this bus driver have already made, because over the past 61 years, the rescue squad — which would not have opened without this tragedy — has saved countless lives and offered swift water rescue training to folks all over the country.
On March 6, 1958, the former Floyd County Times asked a question in an editorial it printed about the bus wreck, calling for improvements in bus safety and training.
In the opening line, it stated, “What shall we say for the children who died in last Friday’s school bus disaster and for their sorrowing loved ones?”
This is what we would like to say to them:
You are loved.
You are remembered.
You may be gone from here, but you are part of who we are today, and for that, we are grateful.
We ask our readers to honor these former Floyd Countians by reading their names aloud:
John Alex DeRossett, 27, a school bus driver from Water Gap
Glenda May Cisco, 17, and Kenneth Forest Cisco, 14, children of Otto and Elizabeth Blackburn Cisco of Sugar Loaf
Rita Cheryl Matney, 8, and Joyce Ann Matney, 14, daughters of Kermit and Pauline Matney of Lancer
John Spencer Goble, 11, James Edward Goble, 12, and Anna Laura Goble, 9, children of James B. and Virginia Spears Goble of Emma
Sandra Faye Cline, 8, and Paulette Cline, 9, daughters of James Colonel Cline and Audrey Lafferty Cline of Lancer
Bucky Ray Jarrell, 14, and Katie Carol Jarrell, 13, children of William and Rebecca Moore Jarrell of Sugar Loaf
Nannie Joyce McPeek, 17, daughter of the late Allen Roby and Roma Owens McPeek, who lived with Mr. and Mrs. James Cline near Lancer
James Thomas Ousley, 15, son of Orville B. and Alvie Stephens Ousley of Lancer; and James Edison Carey, 9, son of James and Louise Williamson Carey of Emma
Margaret Louise Hunt, 15, daughter of Ed and Gerlene Darby Hunt of Cow Creek
Kathryn Justice, 16, daughter of Lee and Gladys King Justice of Endicott
Randy Scott Wallen, 17, son of Scott and Mollie Thompson Wallen of Lancer
John Harlan Hughes Jr., 13, son of John Harlan and Susie Meade Hughes of Emma
Jane Carol Harris, 14, daughter of Joe Wheeler and Madge Burchett Harris of Emma
Thomas Roosevelt Jervis, 13, son of Jeff and Mary Belle Jervis of Buffalo Creek
Linda Darby, 14, daughter of Bill and Eunice Jarrell Darby of Cow Creek
Marcella Jervis, 14, daughter of Columbus and Charlene Stepp Jervis of Emma
Emogene Darby, 17, daughter of John and Virgie Woods Darby of Cow Creek
Montaine Jervis, 15, son of Virginia and Nancy Woods Jervis of Endicott;
Doris Faye Burchett, 15, daughter of Belvard and Opal Martin Burchett of Emma
James L. Meade Jr., 9, son of James L. and Thelma Crabtree Meade of Lancer