At least 26 dead in West Virginia flooding

Updated 8:14 AM EDT, Sat June 25, 2016
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Story highlights

Elkview, Clendenin and Frame counties are hit the hardest

200 National Guard members have been activated to help

(CNN) —  

[Breaking news update, posted at 8:13 a.m. ET]

At least 26 people have died as a result of flooding in West Virginia, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday, after another three victims were found overnight.

[Previous update, posted at 7:05 a.m. ET]

Massive floods sent raging waters across West Virginia, killing at least 23 people and leaving hundreds stranded, officials said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced 14 deaths at a news conference Friday afternoon. By that night, the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management had increased the death toll to 23.

Rescue crews worked steadily on Saturday to answer emergency calls from residents stranded by fast-moving floodwaters that state officials say have killed at least 24 people. It’s the nation’s highest death toll from flash floods since May 2010, when 27 people died in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Forty-four counties declared a state of emergency Thursday night, primarily in the southeastern part of West Virginia. Elkview, Clendenin and Frame have been hit the hardest by the flooding, officials said.

Tomblin activated 200 National Guard members to assist in eight counties and has authorization for as many as 300 more to help with the rescue and response efforts, the governor’s office said Friday.

“Together with the National Guard, our first responders, local emergency management officials and firefighters from across the state have been working around the clock, and we are deeply appreciative of their efforts,” Tomblin said in the statement.

A 4-year-old boy was washed away by rapid floodwaters in Jackson County, officials said. The child was playing with his sister behind their home when he fell into a stream that had instantly turned into a rushing current after the relentless storms. An 8-year old boy from Ravenswood was also killed in the violent storm.

Severe damage to homes and infrastructure can be seen throughout the state, residents said. At one point during the height of the storm, there were 64 active emergency calls in Kanawha County, according to county spokeswoman Brooke Hylbert.

Cars submerged in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
Cars submerged in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
PHOTO: Credit: Chad Agner

A 1,000-year flood

The high terrain along rivers in southeastern West Virginia are exacerbating the flooding, meteorologists said.

Weather radar estimates show that more than 10 inches of rain have fallen in portions of Greenbrier County. There is a 1 in 1,000 chance of this type of rainfall happening in any given year, according to the National Weather Service.

In Kanawha County, which includes the capital of Charleston, the Elkview River crested at 33.37 feet Friday morning, meteorologists said. The river rose more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, the highest crest since record-keeping began more than 125 years ago, according to the National Weather Service.

500 stranded at a mall for more than a day

In that same county, nearly 500 people were stranded at the Elkview Crossings Mall in Elkview for more than 24 hours starting on Thursday, when rain washed our an access road, officials said.

By Friday night, emergency workers had constructed a temporary gravel road to get all the people who were stranded by flood waters to exit, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Homes washed away

Thursday night unfolded like a horrific movie for 26-year-old Chad Agner of White Sulphur Springs, in the southern part of the state.

“The flooding looked like the ocean. There were these big waves,” Agner said.

As the rain intensified, Anger, who was planning to grab dinner with a friend, decided to head to his apartment instead, only to find his neighbor submerged in knee-deep water.

“The water was so high,” Agner said. He decided against going inside his apartment to retrieve his belongings.

Chad Agner captured photos of the devastating flooding in his area of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Friday. His home was washed away by powerful flood waters overnight.
Chad Agner captured photos of the devastating flooding in his area of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Friday. His home was washed away by powerful flood waters overnight.

Agner said he saw the flood sweeping away homes and cars before his eyes.

“The house in front of where my apartment used to be is turned over. Some houses are totally gone,” he told CNN. “My apartment is gone.”

Chad Agner captured photos of the devastating flooding in his area of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Friday. His home was washed away by powerful flood waters overnight.
Chad Agner captured photos of the devastating flooding in his area of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Friday. His home was washed away by powerful flood waters overnight.
PHOTO: Chad Agner/Facebook

Other residents of White Sulphur Springs said the floods launched a home off its foundation and down Howard’s Creek.

Helpless witnesses said the house caught fire and was burning as it floated down the stream, which runs through the town.

Resort under water

Also in White Sulphur Springs, the storms severely impacted The Greenbrier, a luxury resort that was scheduled to host the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic July 7-10.

Professional PGA golfer Bubba Watson, who was at the resort when the storms hit, shared a photo and video on his Twitter account showing the grounds covered in fast-moving brown water.

Because of “widespread damage” from the heavy flooding, the resort will be closed until further notice, the Greenbrier announced on Twitter.

Resort owner Jim Justice released a statement saying that their focus is on helping the people, not “the property, the golf course, or anything else.”

CNN’s Azadeh Ansari, Keith Allen, Ralph Ellis, Joe Sutton and Taylor Ward contributed to this report.