CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An 8-year-old boy died after being swept away in swift water and another boy was missing as bands of strong thunderstorms pounded West Virginia with heavy rains and whipping winds Thursday.
Storms knocked out power for tens of thousands of homes and businesses and caused extensive flooding damage in some areas.
The storms spurred Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency for 44 counties, including the northern and eastern panhandles. Earlier, he declared a state of emergency in Nicholas and Greenbrier counties, where some areas have been rendered inaccessible because of damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Tomblin wrote in a proclamation.
Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said Emanual Williams was walking with his sister and mother when he slipped in water and was pulled under Thursday afternoon, The Intelligencer reported. He was found about three hours later and pronounced dead at a hospital.
Outside Ravenswood in Jackson County, a boy who is 2 to 4 years old was swept away in swift water behind some homes, Emergency Management and 911 Director Walter Smittle said. The small stream flows into Sandy Creek, which empties into the Ohio River, Smittle said. Officials were called about 4:30 p.m., and the search was continuing Thursday night for the child, whose name hadn’t been released.
Storms began early Thursday, and about 40,000 customers consistently were without power throughout much of the day, according to FirstEnergy and Appalachian Power outage reports. Kanawha County was the hardest hit, with about 10,400 customers left powerless by the early evening.
The downpours forced nursing homes in Ritchie and Nicholas counties to clear out.
The Pine View Nursing And Rehabilitation Center in Harrisville took on 6 to 8 inches of water, and 46 patients were taken to the Lion’s Club, Ritchie County Office of Emergency Management director Jim White told WOWK-TV. White said 10 other patients who need ambulances for transport were taken to Camden Clark Medical Center in Parkersburg.
The Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Richwood was also evacuated, said the city’s mayor, Robert Johnson. They also moved select elderly and disabled people, he said, sending evacuees to the Liberty Baptist Church.
Johnson said business and residential damage will be extensive from the storm. All the stores in Cherry River Plaza have several inches of water in them, he said.
“We pretty much live in a bowl, and the bowl filled with water, certainly,” Johnson said.
Elsewhere, Joe Coughlin of Greenbrier County Homeland Security & Emergency Management said some first responders there are picking people up at their homes by boat and bringing them to shelters.
Some are too isolated to reach because roads are flooded and there’s no way to get boats on the water. Some homes have been washed off their foundation and people are stuck in cars trapped in the water, Coughlin said.
Professional golfer Bubba Watson, who has a home at The Greenbrier resort, tweeted out a photo of its flooded golf course, which will host a PGA Tour event in two weeks.
The resort says it was working to keep guests and workers safe.
In a news release, the resort said “torrential rains” fell throughout the day Thursday, causing “heavy flooding throughout the resort and in surrounding areas.”
“It’s like nothing I’ve seen,” said Jim Justice, the resort’s owner and CEO.
Jackson County 911 Communications Director Walter Smittle said people in a trailer park left voluntarily as the water rose.
Officials said the evacuations in Jackson and Greenbrier counties were not mandatory.
Meanwhile, West Virginia roads officials dealt with downed trees and power poles, high water, accidents and other storm-related problems.
Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker says the Transportation Management Center reported high-water issues statewide, and hundreds of downed trees and some power poles across the state. In the early evening, the department said various roads in Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, Summers, Upshur, Fayette, Roane, Webster and Pleasants counties were closed due to flooding, being washed out or other storm-related problems.
The Interstate 79 Burnsville Rest Area was closed because of no power and so was the Nicholas County Division of Highways garage, Walker said.
Accidents were reported due to hydroplaning, and there were intermittent traffic signal outages.
For some parts of West Virginia, Thursday just continued this week’s bad weather.
The National Weather Service also confirmed an EF-1 tornado, which has wind speeds of up to 110 mph, hit Nicholas County on Tuesday.
The service says the tornado touched down 3 miles northeast of Richwood and ended in Greenbrier County, damaging mostly trees and power poles.
A weaker tornado on Tuesday had already been confirmed in Monongalia County. The National Weather Service said it delivered 80 mile-per-hour winds.