23 dead after floods hit West Virginia
Published 25/06/2016 | 04:06
At least 23 people have died after floods swamped parts of West Virginia.
It is estimated about 9in of rain damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of others in the south east of the US state.
About 500 people were stranded overnight in a shopping centre when a bridge was washed away, while dozens of other people had to be plucked from rooftops or rescued from their cars.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has declared a state of emergency in 44 of 54 counties and authorised up to 500 soldiers to assist.
He said: "Our focus remains on search and rescue.
"It's been a long 24 hours, and the next 24 hours may not be much easier."
Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill described "complete chaos" in his county, one of the hardest hit.
"Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes burned down, washed off foundations," he said.
"Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I've never seen anything like that."
In the towns of Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs, rescue crews went door to door to check on residents, a painstaking task that could stretch into the weekend. Once a residence was checked, a red or orange "X'' was marked on the home.
The state Division of Homeland Security reported 15 people killed in Greenbrier County and rescue efforts continue.
An area near the West Virginia-Virginia border received at least 9in of rain while other parts of the state had 3-5in, National Weather Service hydrologist John Sikora said.
While most of the rain had tapered off Friday, there were still scattered showers, thunderstorms and river flood warnings.
Some of the heaviest rainfall was in Greenbrier County, where The Greenbrier luxury resort and golf course is nestled in the mountains. The course, overrun by floodwaters, is scheduled to host a PGA tour event from July 4-10.
"It's like nothing I've seen," owner Jim Justice, a Democratic candidate for governor, said. "But our focus right now isn't on the property, golf course or anything else. We're praying for the people and doing everything we can to get them the help they need."
Professional golfer Bubba Watson was apparently visiting the resort and tweeted photos of entire holes underwater: "Prayers for @The_Greenbrier & surrounding areas. We are without power & it's still raining. Never seen this much rain! #WestVirginiaBeSafe."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was sending teams to help with damage assessments.
The governor's office said 14 deaths were confirmed by the state medical examiner. Local sheriffs and rescue workers across the state confirmed the others not yet included in the state's official tally.
One of the dead included a four-year-old boy who was found about a quarter mile from where he fell into a creek, which usually runs about ankle deep but rose to about 6ft deep when Jackson County was pounded with 9in of rain in 16 hours.
Bob Bibbee with the Ravenswood Fire Department said the boy was outside with his grandfather, who jumped in after him. Neighbours, alerted by the sound of the family's screams, tried to help save the boy but were also unable to reach him.
Three West Virginia counties have been approved for federal aid following the deadly, damaging floods.
A news release from Governor Tomblin on Saturday said a federal disaster declaration was approved for assistance in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties.
The declaration provides people in those three counties with individual assistance for emergency medical support, housing and a number of other immediate needs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) granted the request on Saturday and has started assessing damage in West Virginia.
Damage is still being assessed in other counties, including Clay, Fayette, Monroe, Ritchie, Summers and Webster. The state may still submit additional aid applications to Fema.
The PGA Tour says the Greenbrier Classic scheduled for next month has been cancelled because of the devastating flooding with t he Old White TPC at the Greenbrier Resort, the host course, suffering extensive damage and being "beyond reasonable repair to conduct the tournament."
Greenbrier County claimed 15 of the 23 deaths from the floods. The other deaths were reported in Kanawha, Jackson and Ohio counties.
Mr Tomblin is asking federal authorities for a major disaster declaration to get help for the three counties in his state hardest hit by flooding.
He made an expedited verbal request to Fema for individual assistance for Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties. Individual assistance includes housing and crisis counselling.
He said other counties affected by the flooding will also receive help.
About 32,000 West Virginia homes and businesses remained without power on Saturday after the severe flooding and m ore than 60 secondary roads in the state were closed.
The flooding was sparked by heavy rain late in the week. Authorities said 23 people were killed and scores of homes were damaged after strong thunderstorms rolled into the state on Thursday.