MULLENS, W.Va. — Residents clung to rooftops as southern and central West Virginia battled floods in communities still trying to recover from earlier rains.
Several trailer homes were swept away Sunday by rain-swollen creeks and at least one person has died — an elderly woman whose body was found floating near a fence after the Guyandotte River spilled its banks in Wyoming County.
"I've seen a lot of floods around here, but I've never seen anything like this," said Gary Edwards, who grew up in Mullens, in Wyoming County. "This is a disaster."
Gov. Bob Wise, whose helicopter was used to pluck people off roofs and ferry a heart patient to a hospital, declared a state of emergency in eight counties, the first step in seeking a federal disaster declaration.
Repeated storms from May 15 through June 11 caused millions of dollars in damage. Sixteen West Virginia counties are eligible for some type of federal disaster assistance from that flood including most of those flooded again Sunday.
"The damage, personal damage and the emotional damage, is going to be far worse on this one," Wise said. "The monetary damage is going to be much, much higher, both to the individuals and to the state of West Virginia."
Flooding closed 50 miles of CSX rail track in the southern part of the state, forcing 220 Amtrak passengers traveling from Chicago to Washington to get off the train in Charleston and board a bus, said Amtrak spokeswoman Liz O'Donoghue.
A thunderstorm Sunday morning dumped nearly 8 inches of rain in Mullens, 55 miles south of Charleston, said meteorologist Tom Mazza. "The rainfall came in at 2 inches an hour. The air mass was extremely moist and that supported heavy rainfall rates," he said.
The Guyandotte and Tug Fork rivers hit record levels. Floodwaters, mudslides and tree-blocked roads blocked access to much of the area.
Dean Meadows, Wyoming County emergency services director, said rescuers had been able to use boats to reach a number of people trapped earlier in floating mobile homes.
The Guyandotte River was at 18 feet — 5 feet above flood stage and above the 1977 record of 17.76 feet, meteorologist John Sikora said. The Tug Fork was at 17.5 feet in southern West Virginia, 7.5 feet over its banks and more than 4 feet above the previous high.
Mullens, where electricity was shut off to prevent fires, resembled a crime scene as emergency officials used road blocks to keep all but property owners out. By Sunday evening, the waters had begun to recede, leaving behind a muddy mess.
"I was on the phone earlier with my wife and she was telling me that the water was rising up on the house," said Harold Cameron, 50, who lives near Pineville. "I told her to go. Just leave. Get to higher ground. Don't worry about the things. They're just things."
In southwestern Virginia, more than two dozen families were evacuated from homes in Tazewell County and the Red Cross opened 23 shelters in West Virginia and three in Virginia, offering cots and food.
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