Obama declares disaster in West Virginia after flooding kills at least 24

President Barack Obama declared three West Virginia counties federal disaster areas Saturday after devastating floods killed at least 24 people. 

In addition to those confirmed dead, state officials believe an unknown number of people are missing in Greenbrier County, where 16 people were confirmed dead.

“It does not appear there are unaccounted for people in other counties, but it’s still a somewhat fluid situation,” said Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s chief of staff.

Kanawha and Nicholas counties were also approved for individual assistance, which includes housing and crisis counseling.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was expected to add between six and eight more counties to a formal application for federal disaster aid, which is expected to be filed within the next week.

In the town of Ranielle, where at least fifteen people died, about six buses full of people whose homes were either without power or too damaged to inhabit were evacuated. Some were taken initially to a fire department facility, but then it flooded so they were moved to an abandoned store. When that started to flood, buses took the evacuees to a church 40 miles away.

“I weep for my people, I weep for the businesses,” Rainelle Mayor Andrea “Andy” Pendleton said Saturday.

Search and rescue teams went house to house, marking those checked with a spray-painted `X.’ Abandoned pets were taken to a shelter. A water department filtration system, built with a $2.6 million loan, was damaged, Pendleton said.

Help came from multiple sources, including two search and rescue teams from Virginia.

Some of the heaviest rainfall was in Greenbrier County, where The Greenbrier luxury resort and golf course is nestled in the mountains. The PGA Tour has canceled a tournament there from July 4-10 because the course is overrun by floodwaters.

“Cancelling The Greenbrier Classic is certainly the most prudent course of action as our foremost concern is the well-being of those who are having to live through this tragic situation,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a news release Saturday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Resort owner Jim Justice said the needs of flood-ravaged West Virginians are of utmost concern. Two health-care facilities at the resort will be open this weekend to provide care for residents.

“All of our focus needs to be on helping all of the people of our great state,” Justice said in a news release. “So many have lost loved ones, their homes, and have no place to go.”

An area near the West Virginia-Virginia border received at least 9 inches of rain while other parts of the state had 3 to 5 inches, National Weather Service hydrologist John Sikora said. A flood warning remains in effect for Greenbrier County until 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Others waited days to see their loved ones rescued.

Kari Townsend of Clendenin sat at a shelter in Charleston for most of Friday before her niece, Britani Shafer, and her niece’s five-month-old baby, Shay, made it to safety.

The mother and child had been holed up in a doctor’s office in flooded downtown Clendenin since Thursday afternoon, and started running out of baby formula. Shafer could only send a couple text messages to let her family know what was going on.
Shafer, whose neighbor was able to get her out in a truck, and brought the pair back to meet up with their family.

“There was not a dry eye, let me tell you,” Townsend said. “The baby is fine, (Britani Shafer) is good. It’s awesome.”

Fox News’ Garrett Tenney and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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