West Virginia rescue crews worked steadily overnight and into the morning to answer emergency calls from residents stranded by fast-moving floodwaters that have killed at least 26 people — the deadliest flash flooding in the United States since 2010.
Heavy rain battered much of the state earlier this week, and floodwaters pouring out of creeks and rivers prompted scores of rescue calls. Utilities were working to restore power for residents and businesses.
The high waters were receding Saturday, but officials, such as those in Kanawha County, are warning people to watch out for “flood debris, downed power lines and downed trees.”
Along with responding to rescue emergencies, Kanawha County Sheriff spokesman Brian Humphreys said deputies were going to pharmacies to get medications for people affected by the flooding.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin activated 200 National Guard members to assist in eight counties and has authorization to activate as many as 300 more, if needed.
Tomblin declared states of emergency in 44 counties Thursday night. Eleven remaining counties, located in the northern and eastern panhandles, were excluded from the emergency declaration. The communities of Elkview, Clendenin and Frame, located in Kanawha County, were particularly hard hit.
He said the flooding is the worst in a century for some parts of the state.
“Together with the National Guard, our first responders, local emergency management officials and firefighters from across the state have been working around the clock, and we are deeply appreciative of their efforts,” Tomblin said in a statement.
Three more deaths were reported overnight in Elkview, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office said. These deaths are in addition to the 23 reported by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. At least two children were killed in the deluge, including a 4-year-old boy who was washed away by floodwaters in Jackson County, officials said.
Homes and infrastructure across the state have been severely damaged and washed away. High terrain along rivers speeded the rapid floodwaters. As of 6:30 a.m., there were 158 emergency rescue calls in Kanawha County, the sheriff’s office said. Charleston, the state capital, is in Kanawha, located in the southwestern part of the state.
In that same county, nearly 500 people were stranded at the Elkview Crossings Mall in Elkview for more than 24 hours starting on Thursday, when rain washed out an access road, officials said.
By Friday night, emergency workers had constructed a temporary gravel road to get all the people who were stranded by floodwaters to exit, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Chad Agner, 26, saw homes and cars swept away in White Sulphur Springs in the southeastern part of the state.
Others saw a home that burned as it floated down Howard’s Creek after being washed away by floodwaters in the same town in Greenbrier County.
“The house in front of where my apartment used to be is turned over. Some houses are totally gone,” Agner told CNN. “My apartment is gone.”
A 1,000-year flood
Weather radar estimates show that more than 10 inches of rain have fallen in portions of Greenbrier County. There is a 1 in 1,000 chance of this type of rainfall happening in any given year, according to the National Weather Service.
In Kanawha County, the Elkview River crested at 33.37 feet Friday morning, meteorologists said. The river rose more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, the highest crest since record-keeping began more than 125 years ago, according to the National Weather Service.
CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said the death toll in West Virginia makes in the deadliest flash flooding event since May 2010 — when 27 people were killed in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Resort under water
Also in White Sulphur Springs, the storms severely impacted The Greenbrier, a luxury resort set to host the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic in July.
Professional PGA golfer Bubba Watson, who was at the resort when the storms hit, shared a photo and video on his Twitter account showing the grounds covered in fast-moving brown water.
Because of “widespread damage” from the heavy flooding, the resort will be closed until further notice, The Greenbrier announced on Twitter.
Resort owner Jim Justice released a statement saying that their focus is on helping the people, not “the property, the golf course, or anything else.”