Heavy rain and flash flooding swept parts of West Virginia Monday morning, prompting water rescue and evacuation efforts as residents were ordered to go to higher ground.
For five hours, the National Weather Service recorded between three and six inches of rain in the Upper Kanawha Valley area near the capital Charleston, with radar picking up more than twenty inches of rain in some areas.
The flood warning will remain in effect through Monday afternoon, with the possibility of more inches of rain.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
“It came out of nowhere. We received almost no warning at all, which is very unusual,” said Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission. He said the county had just 30 minutes to prepare and warn residents, adding that more than 10 inches of rain fell in one area in less than an hour.
“It’s just outrageous,” he said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning around 7 a.m. with the possibility of life-threatening damage and prompted an evacuation order for parts of the county.
“Turn over, don’t drown,” the county warned motorists on social media as mudslides closed lanes of US Route 60 at Cedar Grove and on the West Virginia Turnpike near Chelyan, south of Chesapeake.
Mr Carper estimated that “dozens and dozens” of residents had been rescued, including people trapped in cars and even emergency responders, and that the 911 dispatcher received more than 700 calls over the course of the morning. A dog stranded on its kennel was also rescued.
“This is new to me and I’ve seen a lot,” said Mr. Carper.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared states of emergency in Kanawha, Braxton, Calhoun, Clay and Roane counties. The rains came just a year after the floods hit the same valley, and Mr Carper said the cleanup after that weather event was still ongoing.
James Zvolensky, meteorologist with the Charleston Weather Service, said there was about an inch to two inches of rain over the weekend in some spots that experienced flooding.
“They are quite prepared for difficulties, especially when the rain levels are as heavy as this morning,” he said.
The rain started around 5 a.m. on Monday. The heavy rain showers moved extremely slowly and continued to develop. Although the rain had largely stopped, runoff continued to be a threat and more rain was expected over the next 24 hours.
Mr Zvolensky said Tuesday’s forecast would likely see a similar weather pattern with the possibility of showers and thunderstorms at higher elevations. A cold front is expected to move through on Wednesday and dry weather is forecast for the weekend.
When the rain subsided, rescue workers stopped at every house and car to make sure no one was inside and left a chalk line to make sure the situation was clear.
“There are no disruptive floods,” Mr Carper said. “It’s no nuisance if you lose your heat pump, air conditioner or your furniture. This is not a nuisance, this is devastating for most people.”
Once the water recedes, county officials will assess the damage and consider applying for federal aid, which they were denied after last year’s flooding.
Mr. Carper said Kanawha County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on cleanups and never received a refund, including repairing baseball fields so young people could play.
“The federal government simply turned its back on us,” he said.