Kanawha County is “devastated,” emergency officials say of flooding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Rescue efforts continued into Friday afternoon in northern Kanawha County which was one of the areas hit hardest by heavy rain and flash flooding Thursday that poured through parts of central and southeastern West Virginia.

“This county has been devastated,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper on Friday morning soon after emergency officials were fully able to access the Clendenin area, where three people died in flooding, for the first time since before the storms.

“Clendenin basically became an island,” Carper said.

Even on Friday, low ceilings kept helicopters out of rescue efforts in Kanawha County while high water and debris, downed trees and mudslides slowed attempts on the ground.

In several instances, first responders were trapped by high water while trying to assist residents.

“There’s areas that creeks have washed out onto the main roadway that you’ve got to have a four-wheel drive vehicle just to pass by the creek where the sand’s so deep. There’s places in high four-wheel drive trucks that we drive where we’re still dragging the ground going over places,” said C.W. Sigman, deputy emergency manager in Kanawha County.

“It’s very difficult to get into the places to start clearing the homes and making sure no one was left behind.”

In all, Kanawha County was reporting more than 71 successful water rescues as of Friday morning.

Pending rescues were being prioritized. “Just because you’re stranded doesn’t mean you’re in danger and they’re trying to choose the people who are in the most immediate danger and start going after those people first,” Sigman explained.

Most of the rescues were along the Elk River in communities like Elkview, Clendenin and Frame.

The Elk River was expected to fall below flood stage by Saturday morning while the Kanawha River was forecasted to near the flood stage of 30 feet by Friday night in Charleston.

The full extent of the damage, Carper said, would not be known until after the water had receded and residents were accounted for fully. Damage assessments, he said, would begin at that point.

“There’s a lot of just utter devastation in some areas (where) the homes are gone and in a lot of areas the homes are covered in water and, once the water went down, it’s covered in mud to the point where it’s very difficult to walk in the yards or the streets or anything,” Sigman said.

Carper was asking residents to stay out of the flood-ravaged areas, if possible.

“This is not the time to go into these areas to sightsee,” he said. “No. 1, it’s dangerous. No. 2, you’re interfering with folks that may need to be rescued safely.”

Lt. Michael Baylous, spokesperson for State Police, echoed that sentiment.

“We do not need spectators out there. We don’t need people lingering around and trying to see what’s going on,” he said. Unless there is a reason to be in that area, “Please stay out of those areas and allow first responders and community members to do what they need in this situation.”

Statewide, Baylous said the hardest hit areas included White Sulphur Springs, Rainelle, Richwood, Clay and Clendenin.

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