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At Least 23 Dead From Severe Flooding In West Virginia


At least 23 people are dead in West Virginia after severe flooding. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is working with state officials to assess the damage from the air. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has asked the agency for aid for three of the 44 counties still under a state of emergency.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Kara Lofton is out surveying the damage with members of the West Virginia National Guard. And she joins us by phone. Kara, welcome to the program.

KARA LOFTON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SUAREZ: Where are you right now, and what's going on around you?

LOFTON: I'm in Clendenin, W.V. That is about 30 minutes outside of Charleston the state capital. This is one of the hardest hit areas by the flood. The water started to go down here around 9 a.m. yesterday, but it rose at least 12 feet, possibly more in places, covering homes. You can see the water marks over the buildings. It's really quite extensive.

SUAREZ: Did West Virginians have any idea what was headed their way? Did they have a chance to prepare?

LOFTON: Not really. I mean, there has been updates along and along, but folks, I don't think that they knew how severe this was going to be. Some people did evacuate, and some people had to be evacuated.

I did hear from one gentleman this afternoon who actually took his boat out and was pulling people out of homes. Another guy swam over to a front porch where a dog was tied up and about to drown and untied the dog. We do hear that the dog is now following that guy around. But people didn't know that it was going to be this bad and certainly weren't fully prepared for it.

SUAREZ: Certainly when waters are rising very quickly, people are caught unawares by them. Tell us about Sarah Chandler.

LOFTON: Sure. I met Sarah Chandler outside of her mother's home. She told me that her mother had actually fallen and had to be taken to a hospital by two boats and then an ambulance. Sarah was trying to clean out their - her parent's home.

SARAH CHANDLER: It's not a very sanitary place. There's feces. There's - everything floated, so it's just - it's gross.

LOFTON: Her grandfather's home that she desperately wanted to touch right next door because he is now deceased but had been a Navy vet - was completely trashed. And all of his medals and flags were underwater in a mud and rock bed.

SUAREZ: As I mentioned earlier, you're with the West Virginia National Guard. What's their priority at this point? Can people move around? Are there still people who are missing?

LOFTON: So there are still some people who are unaccounted for. But right now it's mainly that the Guard's priorities are in clean-up mode. They are doing health and wellness checks today. That is most of what I have been following them along with, basically checking to see if people have water, have food. They are also setting up debris points for their engineering equipment to take a lot of these destroyed structures and belongings that cannot be salvaged and put them in collection points that will then be disposed of.

SUAREZ: That's Kara Lofton from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for talking to us.

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

Kara Lofton is a photojournalist based in Harrisonburg, VA. She is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and has been published by EMU, Sojourners Magazine, and The Mennonite. Her reporting for WMRA is her radio debut.
Ray Suarez