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Storms slam parts of Mountain State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- WALTON -- Paula Burgess doesn't remember water from the Pocatalico River ever rising as quickly as it did Thursday morning.

Within half an hour, the river had risen out of its banks and into the backyard of her Second Street home and her potato garden about 40 feet away, she said.

"I've just never seen it come up so fast," the Walton resident said. "I mean, I've lived here all my life."

Heavy rain fell across West Virginia early Thursday, causing flash flooding that blocked several roadways in Roane County. The 911 center was shut down at about 11 a.m., and the Jackson County sheriff's dispatch took over for neighboring Roane.

Melissa Gilbert, director of Roane County 911, said the center had seen high water before but never any flooding. No water entered the center itself, she said.

"We managed to turn everything off so nothing was ruined," she said.

The 911 center, however, lost a sleeping quarters for emergency staff and an ambulance that were separate from the main building.

It was difficult dispatching emergency calls because they lost all communications except for their cellphones.

"We kind of had to abandon ship," Gilbert said.

The West Virginia National Guard put 20 soldiers on active duty to help the town of Spencer, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency shortly after noon.

Six military vehicles were headed to Roane County in the afternoon for health and wellness checks, according to a news release. Four more vehicles were loaded with food and water for people in need.

The health and wellness teams assist local emergency personnel by identifying needs in areas that have been impacted by storms. That way, supplies and medical needs can be met quickly, according to the release.

West Virginia State Police Capt. D.L. Lemmon said about 40 people were displaced by the floodwaters. About a dozen of them were staying at an emergency shelter set up by the American Red Cross. Spencer and Alloy were the hardest-hit areas, he said at a news conference in Spencer.

Lemmon said emergency responders rescued nine people from high water. No one was injured, he said.

Two members of the National Guard were on standby to access areas with high water, said West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato. The most common flood damage is washed-out roadways, mudslides and debris.

Emergency officials must wait for waters to subside before making a full assessment on the storm's damage. They would be there until early next week, Gianato said.

John Kelley of the Walton Volunteer Fire Department closed U.S. 119 -- which connects Walton with Spencer -- Thursday morning. High water also made the nearby River Road impassable.

"We've had a lot of water rescues that we can't get to," Kelley said, "so what the 911 center has asked me to do is close the traffic off so no one else gets through."

Kelley said the flooding was the worst Walton had seen since 2005.

Tara McKown of Cox Fork, Roane County, parked her car at the Walton Post Office and waded, instead of driving, through the water covering River Road.

She was trying to get to her job as a custodian at Walton Elementary and Middle School.

"I'm OK, I just can't get through," McKown said. "My son called and [said] my daughter's bridge washed away so she can't get back home. She's at work."

About an hour later, she kept her eyes toward the post office and her nearby car. Water continued to rise and she couldn't get to it.

The state Department of Transportation said just before noon Thursday on its Twitter feed that all available Division of Highways resources were being sent to Roane County to block roads. The State Police asked all motorists to avoid the roads leading to Spencer, and said many of those roads "will be closed for an undetermined amount of time."

Roane County residents had been trapped by water earlier Thursday on Clay Road in Looneyville, Arnoldsburg Road and Round Knob Road in Spencer and Little Left Hand Road in Amma.

"It's swift-moving high water," a dispatcher said early in the morning. "It's coming up so quickly and catching people off guard -- and people are driving through it, too."

Heavy rain also caused a rockslide to close U.S. 119 in Spencer for about an hour Thursday morning. That was before high floodwater caused firefighters to close the road in Walton.

Just before 3 p.m., the second round of rain had stopped in Spencer, said Terrance Lively of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"The whole county was hit by both bands of storms," Lively said.

The DOT said the eastbound lanes of U.S. 33 in Jackson County also was closed for hours.

Elsewhere in Jackson County, 911 dispatchers said early Thursday that they'd received calls about high water on Homersmith Road in Fairplain, Copperfork Road in Sandyville and Pleasant Valley Road in Kenna.

Several roads in the county were closed because of high water, according to DOT.

The National Weather Service said the Spencer area received up to 3 inches of rain in a 12-hour period ending at noon Thursday.

Statewide, the storms left about 40,000 utility customers without electricity. By 10:30 p.m. Thursday, about 12,600 residents statewide were without power. About 135 FirstEnergy customers in Roane County also were without electricity.

The Associated Press and staff writers Kate White and Laura Reston contributed to this report.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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