CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Thunderstorms dumped heavy rains that caused significant flooding in parts of West Virginia on Monday, authorities said.
Gov. Jim Justice issued a state of emergency in at least five counties, enabling the National Guard to activate swift-water rescue teams and use helicopters in areas hit by floodwaters.
“This is an ongoing, life-threatening emergency,” the Kanawha County Commission said on social media. “Please seek higher ground.”
The commission said that based on radar estimates, up to 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rain fell in a short amount of time Monday in areas east of Charleston, sending several creeks out of their banks. Classes at several schools were canceled. Mudslides closed U.S. Route 60 in the Kanawha County community of Cedar Grove, and flooding led to lane closures on parts of Interstate 77.
First responders conducted at least 22 water rescues in the county Monday morning, the commission said.
Communities hit the hardest were along hillsides where runoff flowed into narrow valleys.
“The mountains we have make it really, really tough,” Justice said during his weekly media briefing. “We’ve got more and more hardship on people and it’s a crying shame. It’s very very, very difficult no matter what is done to be able to get away from that.”
The rains fell on top of ground saturated by previous severe storms over the weekend. A bridge in the Chelyan area whose timber deck was lifted off its steel beams by debris and floodwaters was repaired on Sunday, only to be underwater again on Monday, the state Department of Transportation said.
“It was just a downpour,” Pond Gap resident Terry Keenan said. “I got up at 6 o’clock, and it was raining real hard.”
It marked the third time in a year that severe flooding hit southern West Virginia. In February, the body of an infant was found in a submerged car in the Fayette County town of Pax. In August 2022, flooding in Fayette and Kanawha counties damaged more than 100 homes, bridges and roads, disrupted drinking water systems and washed out part of a public service district’s sewage collection system serving a prison.
In June 2016, 23 people died in flooding statewide.
“It’s just echoes the haunting feelings of June 23, 2016, when it ripped through everywhere and it was devastation beyond belief,” the governor said.