June 2016– WEST VIRGINIA – At least 23 people, including an 8-year-old boy who was wading in a foot of water, died in massive floods in West Virginia from a storm system that has dumped a historic amount of rain in parts of the state, state officials said Friday. As much as 8-10 inches of rain fell in six to eight hours in parts of West Virginia, the National Weather Service said. This amount of rain in such a short time is likely a “one-in-a-thousand-year event,” the weather service said.
It was the third-deadliest flood on record in West Virginia, according to the West Virginia state climatologist Kevin Law. Only the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972 (when 125 died after a dam break) and a November 1985 flood (when 38 died from a combination of Hurricane Juan’s remnants and another storm) killed more in the state, Law said. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters Friday that damage is widespread and devastating. Saying search and rescue missions are still a top priority, Tomblin issued a state of emergency for 44 counties and deployed 150 members of the National Guard to help emergency responders.
The flooding was “among the worst in a century” for some parts of West Virginia, ABC News quoted the governor as saying. Tomblin’s chief of staff, Chris Stadelman, said 14 deaths had been confirmed by the state medical examiner. But local sheriffs and rescue workers across the state confirmed others not yet included in the state’s official tally, the Associated Press reported. Sheriff Jan Cahill of Greenbrier county, one of the hardest hit areas, said at least 13 were killed there. Three were killed in Kanawha County and one each in Ohio and Jackson counties.
The body of Emanual Williams, 8, was recovered in Big Wheeling Creek in the Elm Grove area of Wheeling, The Wheeling Intelligencer reported. The newspaper said the boy was walking with his sister and mother in a foot of water in the creek when he slipped and was carried away by strong currents. One of the 500 people stranded overnight at a shopping mall said rescuers used a rope to help him and others down a steep slope behind the Crossings Mall in Elkview, about 12 miles from Charleston. Eric Blackshire, who is 48, said that he decided to get a hotel room at the mall on Thursday because a rock slide had blocked his way home to Walton. Then the bridge to the mall washed out during heavy rainfall, stranding people there overnight.
In Nicholas County, much of the town of Richwood was inundated by high water from the Cherry River, forcing the relocation of a nursing home. In nearby Greenbrier County, the grounds of the 238-year-old Greenbrier Resort, a National Historic Landmark, were partially flooded by water from Howard’s Creek. The heavy rains and rising water swamped towns, inundated a two-century old resort and trapped 500 people in a shopping center when a bridge was washed out. The storm also knocked out power to 66,000 West Virginians, and forced the shut off of gas in the town of White Sulphur Springs, Tomblin said.
The governor said 60 roads were closed, many of them destroyed, bridges were knocked out, and homes were burned down and washed off foundations. He said water rescue teams searched devastated areas looking for possible victims. “It’s been a long 24 hours, and the next 24 hours may not be any easier,” the governor said. Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill described “complete chaos” in his county from the flooding, according to the Associated Press. –USA Today