CHARLESTON, West Virginia — A storm system dumped up to nine inches of rain on parts of West Virginia, trapping 500 people in a shopping center when a bridge washed out and people had to be plucked off rooftops or rescued from the upper stories of their homes as the waters quickly rose during the deluge.
At least four people died, including an eight-year-old boy who was swept away by swift water, and officials were looking for another young boy who was also swept away in a different county, authorities and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s spokesman said Friday. The rains submerged homes and cars in dirty brown water and chewed up roads. Tens of thousands of people were without power at the peak of the storm.
Some areas are “probably looking at flooding that’s going to be the worst in 100 years,” Tomblin’s spokesman Chris Stadelman said.
An isolated area along the West Virginia-Virginia border received at least nine inches of rain while other parts of the state had three to five inches, National Weather Service hydrologist John Sikora said. The heaviest recorded rainfall was in Greenbrier County. While most of the rain had tapered off Friday, there were still scattered showers and thunderstorms and river flood warnings.
In Elkview, which is about 15 miles northeast of Charleston, rescue crews were evacuating an estimated 500 people who were trapped by high water at the Crossings Mall when a culvert bridge washed out Thursday, Kanawha County Sheriff’s Sgt. B.D. Humphreys said. Some people had to sleep in their cars or at businesses overnight and restaurants were open to help feed people, WSAZ reported.
Although some areas were evacuated before or during the storm, the governor’s spokesman said other people had to be rescued. Kanawha County emergency officials said there were at least 70 water rescues.
We had swift water rescue teams out until late last night and back out again this morning literally rescuing people from rooftops and upper stories of houses.”
— Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin
The Kanawha Sheriff’s Department put out a statement urging residents to stay off the roads unless there was an emergency.
“Due to the widespread flooding through the county, there are many road closures. Travel throughout the county will be very dangerous today,” the statement said, warning drivers not to travel through high water.
At The Greenbrier, a luxury resort nestled in the mountains, the golf course was overrun by rushing waters. The course is scheduled to host a PGA tour event, The Greenbrier Classic, from July 4-10.
“It’s like nothing I’ve seen,” owner Jim Justice said in a statement. “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 governor issued a state of emergency on Thursday for 44 counties in the state.
“I have authorized the deployment of up to 150 members of the West Virginia National Guard to assist local emergency responders as we continue to evaluate the situation today,” he said in a statement Friday.
Three people died in Kanawha County and a fourth death was in Wheeling, the governor’s spokesman said. He didn’t have any details on the deaths. Wheeling police said an eight-year-old boy died after he was swept away by swift water. The other boy disappeared in Jackson County.
Across the state line, Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency in Alleghany County and Covington after severe weather and flooding there. Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted Thursday night that a state of emergency has been declared, allowing state agencies to bypass some time-consuming procedures to quickly help local governments.
Three emergency workers were injured during a water rescue in Alleghany County, officials said. One worker fell in the water during a rescue and two others were hurt while rescuing their colleague, Botetourt County Battalion Chief Andrew Moore said Friday.
The Virginia Department of Transportation warns that more than a dozen Alleghany County roads were closed Friday morning due to flooding and there were reports of downed trees and utility lines. Dominion Power reports about 1,700 customers without power statewide.