World

West Virginia's worst floods in a century leave at least 23 dead

At least 23 people in West Virginia have died in the U.S. state's worst flooding in more than a century, and hundreds more have been rescued from swamped homes, government officials said on Friday.

State of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and 200 members of the National Guard deployed

Flooding in West Virginia had killed at least 26 people by Saturday morning. (West Virginia Department of Transportation via Reuters)

At least 23 people in West Virginia have died in the U.S. state's worst flooding in more than a century, and hundreds more have been rescued from swamped homes, government officials said on Friday.

The mountainous state was pummelled by up to 25 centimetres of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow.

"The damage is widespread and devastating," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at a news conference. "Our biggest challenge continues to be high waters."

A spokeswoman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the state medical examiner put the death toll at 23. The hardest-hit area was Greenbrier County in the southeast part of the state, with 15 deaths.

Employees and volunteers with Main Street Motors attempt to get company documents out of the building on Friday in Richwood. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald via AP)

Multiple rivers have risen to dangerous heights, including the Elk River, which reached 9.7 metres, the highest since 1888, Tomblin said.

Government officials are focusing resources on rescuing those trapped or swept away by the flooding, he said, adding that some 66,000 residences are without power.
Several roads were damaged after the state was hit with up to 250 millimetres of rain on Thursday. ( West Virginia Department of Transportation via Reuters)

The governor declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and deployed 200 members of the West Virginia National Guard to help rescue efforts on Friday.

Towns cut off by water

Though rivers were expected to crest by Friday night, the rescue and recovery effort is likely to last through the weekend, said Tim Rock, spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"There have been towns that have been completely surrounded by water," Rock said. "People say there is eight to nine feet [2.4 to 2.7 metres] of water in their house.

"It's at least into the hundreds forced to get emergency shelter," he said. "Even if you can get back into your home, who knows what kind of shape it's in."

West Virginia received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day, National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Pereira said. Rains eased on Friday.

The storms that drenched West Virginia were part of a severe weather system that has swept through the U.S. Midwest, triggering tornadoes.