Heavy rain and flash floods tore through parts of West Virginia on Monday morning, prompting emergency water rescues and evacuations, as residents were instructed to seek higher ground.
Over five hours, the National Weather Service recorded between three and six inches of rainfall in the Upper Kanawha Valley area near the capital, Charleston, with radar picking up more than eight inches of rain in some areas.
A flood warning remains in effect through Monday afternoon, with the possibility of another inch of rain.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
“This came from nowhere. We had almost no warning whatsoever, which is very unusual,” said Kent Carper, the president of the Kanawha County Commission. 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 the possibility of life-threatening damage, prompting an evacuation order for parts of the county.
“Turn around, don’t drown,” the county warned drivers on social media, as mudslides closed lanes of U.S. Route 60 in Cedar Grove and on the West Virginia Turnpike near Chelyan, which is south of Chesapeake.
Mr. Carper estimated that “dozens and dozens and dozens” of residents had been rescued, including people trapped in cars and even emergency responders, and that the emergency communications center had received more than 700 calls over the course of the morning. A dog that was stranded on top of its doghouse was also rescued.
“That’s a new one for me, and I’ve seen a lot,” Mr. Carper said.
The governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, declared a state of emergency in Kanawha, Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, and Roane counties. The rain arrived just a year after floods pummeled the same valley, and Mr. Carper said cleanup was still ongoing from that weather event.
James Zvolensky, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Charleston, said some spots where flooding occurred received about one to two inches of rain over the weekend.
“They’re pretty much primed for some trouble, especially when you get rain rates as high as we did this morning,” he said.
Monday’s rain began around 5 a.m. Heavy showers moved extremely slowly and continued to develop. While 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 chances for showers and thunderstorms in higher elevations. A cold front is expected to move through on Wednesday with a forecast for dry weather into the weekend.
As the rain let up, emergency responders stopped at every house and car to make sure no one was inside, leaving a chalk mark behind to deem it clear.
“There’s no such thing as nuisance flooding,” Mr. Carper said. “It’s not a nuisance when you lose your heat pump, air-conditioning or your furniture. That’s not a nuisance, that’s devastating to most people.”
Once the water recedes, county officials will survey the damage and consider applying for federal assistance, something 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 fields so young people could play.
“The federal government just turned their back on us,” he said.