Search efforts continue Thursday for more than 40 people unaccounted for after a torrential downpour inundated a rural Virginia county, tearing homes from their foundations and damaging roads and bridges across the region.
Phone lines are down in the area, making it very difficult to contact anyone affected by the flooding, Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller told CNN on Wednesday.
“Combined with the fact that the area is mountainous, rainfall is able to collect quickly, and dangerous runoff occurred,” he said.
Authorities were searching for at least 44 people in the aftermath, they said.
“This number reflects the number of people that has been reported to law enforcement by loved ones and family members as being unable to make contact with them,” the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday in a Facebook post.
“This does not mean the person is missing, it means we are attempting to reach and locate the person and check on their wellbeing.”
Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency to help with recovery efforts.
The forecast Thursday and Friday calls for sun, with high temperatures in the lower to mid-80s, ahead of a slight chance of rain Saturday that increases Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
The damaging storm was among several that lingered Tuesday night over the county and parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
Home seen floating away
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Buchanan County around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. About two hours later, local officials began reporting widespread flooding and road closures.
“We were sitting at this post office over here, and the next thing you know, the house is floating on down through there. We thought it was going to wash off. Two of the houses washed off,” resident Seth Owens told CNN affiliate WCYB.
Dominick Fragoso, who lives in Whitewood, said the water rose to his kneecaps.
“One of our neighbors’ driveways completely collapsed and fell down the mountain and fell down the creek,” Fragoso told the station.
The storm system also hit the Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where more than 400 people were evacuated Wednesday after more than 8 inches of rain fell, said Perrin Anderson, the assistant mayor for governmental affairs in Sevier County.
“Debris and vehicles washed downstream in the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River from the campground,” Anderson said.
More than 100 homes were damaged in southwestern Virginia, said Billy Chrimes, a search and rescue specialist with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
“It’s gonna take time for the access to be restored so we can get in,” Chrimes said.
Roads were blocked by landslides and approaches to bridges were washed out in the storm, he added.
“In the wake of the devastation, I want Virginians in Buchanan County to know that we are making every resource available to help those impacted by this storm,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement. “While rescue and recovery continues, please join me in prayer as we lift up our fellow Virginians impacted by this tragedy.”
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