Heavy rains and flash flooding ravaged parts of West Virginia Monday morning, prompting emergency water relief and evacuations as residents were instructed to seek higher ground.
For five hours, the National Weather Service recorded between three and six inches of rain in the upper Kanawha Valley region near the capital, Charleston, with radar picking up more than eight inches of rain in some areas.
A flood warning remains in effect until Monday afternoon, with the possibility of another inch of rain.
No deaths or injuries were immediately reported.
“It came out of nowhere. We received virtually no warnings, which is very unusual,” said Kanawha County Commission Chairman Kent Carper. He said the county only had 30 minutes to prepare and warn residents, adding that one area received more than nine inches of rain in less than an hour.
“It’s just unheard of,” he said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning around 7 a.m. with possible fatal damage, prompting an evacuation order for parts of the county.
“Turn around, don’t drown,” county drivers warned on social media, as mudslides closed lanes of US Route 60 in Cedar Grove and on the West Virginia Turnpike near Chelyan, south of Chesapeake.
Mr Carper estimated that “dozens and dozens and dozens” of residents had been rescued, including people trapped in cars and even rescue workers, and that the emergency communications center had received more than 700 calls in the morning. A dog stuck at the top of its kennel was also rescued.
“It’s new to me, and I’ve seen a lot of it,” Mr. Carper said.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has declared states of emergency in Kanawha, Braxton, Calhoun, Clay and Roane counties. The rain came just a year after flooding hit the same valley, and Mr Carper said cleanup was still ongoing following that weather event.
James Zvolensky, a meteorologist with the Charleston Weather Service, said some places where flooding occurred received about one to two inches of rain over the weekend.
“They’re ready for trouble, especially when the rainfall is as heavy as this morning,” he said.
Monday’s rains began around 5 a.m. Heavy showers moved extremely slowly and continued to develop. Although the rain has largely stopped, runoff remains a threat and further rains are expected over the next 24 hours.
Zvolensky said Tuesday’s forecast would likely point to a similar weather pattern, with the chance of showers and thunderstorms at higher altitudes. A cold front is expected on Wednesday and dry weather is forecast for the weekend.
As the rain subsided, emergency services pulled up to every house and car to make sure no one was inside, leaving a chalk mark to make everything clear.
“Flooding does not exist,” Mr. Carper said. “It’s not a nuisance to lose your heat pump, your air conditioning or your furniture. It’s not a nuisance, it’s devastating for most people.
Once the water recedes, county officials will assess the damage and consider applying for federal assistance, which they were denied after last year’s flooding.
Mr. Carper said Kanawha County spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on cleanup and was never reimbursed, including fixing baseball diamonds so young people could play.
“The federal government has turned its back on us,” he said.