West Virginia braces for more storms after deadly week of floods

As West Virginians continued surveying damage in a state so devastated by floods that one said her community "smelled like death," residents braced for the prospect of more rain.

U.S. National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for at least 25 of the state's counties

Larry Brooks walks down the mud-covered hallway of his trailer in Elkview, W. Va., on June 25, 2016. Brooks said he lost about 95 per cent of the personal belongings in his home after the worst flooding in a century state the state. (Ty Wright/Getty Images)

As West Virginians continued surveying damage in a state so devastated by floods that one said her community "smelled like death," residents braced for the prospect of more rain.

The U.S. National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for at least 25 West Virginia counties on Monday. Heavy rains were possible in many areas already ravaged by last week's floods that have killed 24 people statewide.

The forecast also includes hardest-hit Greenbrier County, where 16 people have died and floodwaters have yet to recede.

Dozens of residents of flooded-out town of Rainelle remained Sunday at a shelter more than 40 kilometres away at the Ansted Baptist Church, where singing from inside mixed with the bustle of activity outside.

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

Flooded homes are still surrounded by water in Rainelle, W. Va., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

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

Janice 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 says the flood was "the worst thing I've ever seen." But as he sat in his car at the shelter, he declared that "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 oceanfront property?" he said. "I understand there's some available."

'You have to do what you'

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

Among those taking advantage of the shelter's kennel was T.J. Parker and his pet, Titan.

Parker said he and Titan had to swim four blocks to safety. Along the way, he stopped to rescue an elderly man calling for help and brought him through floodwaters to a fire department. Parker said he had to go under water and hold his breath to support the man, then come up for air.

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

Road damage is seen in Kanawha County, W. Va., after the state was pummeled by up to 250 millimetres of rain, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighbouring communities. ( West Virginia Department of Transportation via Reuters)

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 in damage.

That year, the remnants of Hurricane Juan had brought rivers to near bankful when a low-pressure system stalled over the Mid-Atlantic region and produced as much as 255 millimetres of rain.

Forty-seven people died in West Virginia, more than half of them in Pendleton and Grant counties. The Potomac River at Paw Paw crested nine metres above flood stage. More than 3,500 homes, 180 businesses and 43 bridges statewide were destroyed. Twenty-nine counties were declared federal disaster areas.

"This is the worst I've ever seen," said Fayette County Sheriff's Sgt. Bill Mooney, who served in the National Guard during massive floods in 2000-01. "Nobody expected seven inches of [rain] in three hours."

Federal money will be part of the rebuilding equation. Sunday marks the first day people can apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid in the three worst-hit counties of Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas.

President Barack Obama's signature Saturday on the federal disaster declaration lets residents in the three counties get aid for temporary housing and home repairs, receive low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and qualify for other assistance for individuals and business owners. Federal money to help the state and local governments is also available on a cost-sharing basis. FEMA officials were in the state to begin assessing the damage to infrastructure, homes and other property.

About 18,000 homes and businesses remained without power Sunday.


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