Killing Floods Claim 26 Lives In West Virginia: Worst Flash Flooding In Over A Century

Floods have devastated West Virginia in the past few days, killing at least 26 people, according to local authorities. With rain falling up to 10 inches in less than 24 hours in parts of the state, the resultant rising of creeks, streams, and rivers have produced killing floods the likes of which have not been seen in the mountains in over a hundred years — rushing and roaring waterways that have conspired in just a few short hours to destroy property, leave tens of thousands without power, displace hundreds (or even more) and leave hundreds more stranded.

CNN reported June 25 that the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that another three bodies had been found overnight, increasing the number of deaths resulting from the killing floods that have washed over the state in the last couple of days to 26. This put the flood deaths a full dozen higher than that announced by West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Friday afternoon.

As of Thursday night, the killing floods had forced 44 of West Virginia’s 55 counties to declare a state of emergency, but the raging waters were particularly devastating in the southeastern part of the state. The state received a quarter of its annual rainfall in just one day, according to the U.S. National Weather Service, per BBC News. The small towns of Elkview, Clendenin, and Frame in Kanawha County were hardest hit, as was White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County.

The Elkview River, which runs through Kanawha County, crested at 33.37 feet Friday morning, rising more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning. According to the National Weather Service, via CNN, it was the highest crest in over 125 years — since the time records have been kept. Such torrential rains have a 1-in-1,000 chance of occurring in a given year, noted the service.

Gov. Tomblin called out 200 National Guardsmen to assist in rescue and response efforts in eight counties. Another 300 have been authorized to help should their assistance become necessary.

But for some, rescue would not be needed. NBC News reported that a woman was killed when she was swept away while still in her vehicle. And elderly man was also killed by the raging waters. Both fatalities occurred in Kanawha County.

Among the tragic deaths was 4-year-old Edward McMilllion, who went missing along the Ohio River in Ravenswood, in Jackson County. An 8-year-old in Ohio County fell into a flooding creek while outside with his sister and would later die at a hospital.

Still, the killing floods have been stymied in several instances, such as in the case of wheelchair-bound Vietnam War Air Force veteran Karol Dunford. When the 71-year-old Rainelle resident found herself up to her shoulders in water inside her house, responders burst through her door to pull her to safety. She might have lost her wheelchair in the process, but the Associated Press reported that she was subsequently safe and sound, as was her pet Chihuahua.

Some 500 people were stranded at the Elkview Crossings Mall — roughly 12 miles from Charleston, the state capital — when an access road was washed away in the severe flooding on Thursday. But emergency workers had constructed a temporary gravel road by Friday night, freeing the trapped to return to their homes.

Further east, in White Sulphur Springs, a house was lifted off its foundation and set adrift through the town. It somehow caught fire and the floating conflagration was quickly posted to YouTube.

As of Saturday morning, some 32,000 homes and businesses were still without power across the Mountain State, the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security posted to Twitter. That was a significant decrease from the reported 500,000 customers without power on Thursday night.

ABC News reported Saturday afternoon that President Barack Obama had spoken with Gov. Tomblin Saturday by phone. White House spokesman Eric Schultz noted that President Obama was committed to ensuring that the governor and the state of West Virginia be afforded all the federal resources needed for all recovery efforts. At the same time, the president has ordered White House staff to coordinate with Gov. Tomblin’s team to make sure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works diligently in providing assistance to the water-ravaged state.

There were no flash flood warnings issued for West Virginia Saturday. As the killing floods subside and the clean up begins, there will undoubtedly be more than a few wary glances at the skies in the next few days to come.

[Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images]