More rainfall drenches Appalachia

Thursday, March 21, 2002

OLIVE HILL, Ky. -- Another round of rain hit the hills of Appalachia on Wednesday, pushing the flooding north into more towns as even some of the tiniest creeks and streams turned into torrents.

Kentucky and West Virginia got the brunt of the latest storms.

A steady pounding in this northeastern Kentucky town produced 4 inches of rainfall by early Wednesday, sending the usually placid Tygart Creek over its banks.

Authorities began evacuating residents from homes by daybreak. An entire housing complex for the elderly had to be emptied when murky water rose. A nearby daycare center also was evacuated.

"The water came up so fast," said Karen Epling, assistant director of ABC Child Care. "We had 14 children. We loaded up on the bus and got out of here."

Up to 70 percent of the homes and businesses in downtown Olive Hill were damaged, and floodwaters even got into the fire station, which was built above the 100-year flood plain.

"I guess that means this was a 100-year flood," said fire chief Rod Stephens.

Rain had stopped in much of the region by late afternoon, leaving a toll since the weekend of seven deaths and hundreds of damaged or destroyed homes. Authorities in southwestern Virginia suspended the search for a 75-year-old woman who was believed to have been swept away by floodwaters Monday.

Several inches of rain

As much as 6 inches fell since Tuesday along the Ohio River border between West Virginia and Ohio. Residents of about 30 homes in Lawrence County, Ohio, were evacuated Wednesday.

National Guard troops were helping people evacuate in parts of Kentucky, where Gov. Paul Patton declared 12 counties emergencies and asked for federal help.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner made a similar disaster assistance request for southwestern Virginia after weekend rains caused severe flooding that swept away bridges and temporarily displaced more than a thousand people. He estimated the floods damaged more than 400 homes in his state.

In West Virginia, which had largely been spared in earlier storms, more than 3 inches of rain had fallen in Huntington by early Wednesday and totals were up to 2 inches in other parts of the state.

About 100 residents in Cabell, Wayne and Roane counties left their homes as streams overflowed their banks and swamped neighborhoods. High water also closed more than 140 roads in 20 counties.

James Griffith of Rowlesburg watched the fast-moving water from his trailer porch 100 yards from the Cheat River. He took Wednesday off to stay with his 67-year-old mother, Dolly, in case they needed to evacuate.

"She said when it starts coming in the park, she'll pack her clothes. We're not worried yet, we'll worry when it starts coming across the road," he said.

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