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23 Killed In Historic West Virgina Flooding


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In West Virginia, more than 20 people are reported to have died in flooding that has washed away homes and roads. A 4-year-old boy in Jackson County is confirmed to be among the dead after he was pulled into a rising creek on Thursday. Others have died trapped in their cars and homes by the rushing floodwaters.

We're joined now by Ashton Marra from West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Charleston. Ashton, I know you've been very busy. Thanks for being with us.

ASHTON MARRA, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Which areas seem to have been hit hardest by the flooding?

MARRA: Southeastern West Virginia was really the hardest hit area, particularly in these two small towns of Richwood and Clendenin. You know, to put that in perspective, Clendenin is about 20 miles north of where I am in the capital of Charleston. And Richwood is about 100 miles east. A representative of the governor's office said this morning that those communities have just become accessible by vehicle in the past few hours.

And they're now shifting from rescue to recovery mode in that area and in most parts of the state. Greenbrier County, which is also a little bit more than 100 miles east of me, is still experiencing some high waters.

SIMON: What have been the problems that have prevented first responders from reaching people who've been stranded?

MARRA: So understanding the topography of the region is really important to answer that question. Places like Richwood and Clendenin, they're essentially built up in valleys that are surrounded by several water sources. They're near rivers and streams. And this is rural West Virginia. So a lot of people just have a creek running through their backyard. So essentially, because of the lay of the land and the intensity of the storms on Thursday, the water rose really quickly for responders to even know where exactly they were needed.

Clendenin, for example - the National Weather Service says they received 6 to 9 inches of rain in about a 15-hour period, which just filled those rivers and streams and flowed over into the roadways.

SIMON: And what are some of the effects that you see from the flooding?

MARRA: Tens of thousands of people this morning are still without power. Several hundred are without running water. And yesterday, the governor even said there were pockets of places where they had to turn off natural gas service to homes because of those rushing waters.

In that hard hit community of Richwood, for example, 97 patients were evacuated from a nursing home yesterday as water started coming into the building through vents, eventually through the windows. J.D. Eastep (ph) helped evacuate some of those patients. And he said people are basically, in that community, asking themselves the most basic questions.

J. D. EASTEP: Are all my family OK? Where is my house? That's a question people are - have to ask themselves here. Where is my house?

SIMON: I gather that Governor Tomblin has declared a state of emergency. What do you foresee in the days ahead?

MARRA: Right. So the governor declared that state of emergency in 44 counties earlier this week. It is still in place. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is sending crews into the state. They're expected to be here today to begin assessing damage. First responders and the National Guard - they are still in the process of getting people food and water and still making rescues in some areas.

The state really hasn't started to clean up yet. But we'll do those damage assessments with FEMA. We'll see if the federal government will give us any money in terms of aid. And I'm assuming that the rebuilding will start from there.

SIMON: You mentioned FEMA. Any sign that they're on site yet?

MARRA: No, they're not. I spoke with the governor's office. and they expect them to be here in Charleston and then spread throughout the state by the afternoon.

SIMON: Ashton Marra of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARRA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.