Wednesday 21 March 2018

Flood-ravaged West Virginia braced for fresh downpours

Residents begin the clean up of what remains of their property in West Virginia following severe flooding (AP)
Residents begin the clean up of what remains of their property in West Virginia following severe flooding (AP)

More heavy rain is forecast for West Virginia, where flooding has left at least 25 people dead in the past week.

More than 20 counties are under a flash flood watch, and the National Weather Service said downpours are possible in many areas already ravaged by flooding, including Kanawha and Nicholas.

The forecast also includes hardest-hit Greenbrier County, where 17 people have died and floodwaters have yet to recede.

Many residents are still trying to come to grips with ruined property and lost lives before the latest round of storms hit.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's administration still believes there are people missing in Greenbrier County, chief of staff Chris Stadelman said.

On Sunday, dozens of residents from flooded-out Rainelle remained at a shelter more than 25 miles away at the Ansted Baptist Church.

The church's gymnasium has been converted to a shelter, and the church is also a drop-off point for donated goods as well as a makeshift kennel for dog owners.

For now, it is home for Jerry Reynolds, his wife Janice and his brother Marcus.

Mrs Reynolds said she drove back to Rainelle on Saturday to survey the damage. She said her home was destroyed, a vehicle was lost in the floodwaters and the community "smelled like death".

Jerry Reynolds said the flood was "the worst thing I've ever seen", but as he sat in his car at the shelter, he declared: "We're survivors. We'll make it."

Marcus Reynolds even found a bit of humour amid the sorrow.

"While we're at it, would you be interested in any ocean-front property?" he said. "I understand there's some available."

Bill Kious, of Rainelle, was asked how those at the shelter, many of them on modest incomes, are able to laugh.

"Frankly, because we've lived a rough lifestyle," Mr Kious said. "It's a nature to us that we can't get rid of."

Rick Lewis of the Nuttall Fire Department said that on Sunday, 129 people were staying in the church gymnasium. Many more Rainelle residents were sent to other shelters, he said.

Among those taking advantage of the shelter's kennel was TJ Parker of Rainelle and his pet Titan.

Mr Parker said he and Titan had to swim four blocks to safety. Along the way, he stopped to rescue an elderly man who was calling for help and brought him through floodwaters.

He said he had to go under water and hold his breath to support the man, then come up for air.

"I realise that sounds crazy, but you have to do what you have to do at that time," Mr Parker said.

Volunteer Randy Halsey said the donated items at the church are heading specifically to Rainelle. He said it is difficult to estimate how many items have been donated because "as soon as it comes in, it's going right back out".

Authorities have yet to start sizing up the flood damage in West Virginia. But it is drawing comparisons to November 1985 floods that remain the state's most expensive natural disaster with more than 570 million US dollars (£430 million) in damage.

The 1985 floods left 47 dead in West Virginia, more than half of them in Pendleton and Grant counties. The Potomac River at Paw Paw crested 29ft above flood stage. More than 3,500 homes, 180 businesses and 43 bridges state-wide were destroyed. Twenty-nine counties were declared federal disaster areas.


Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News