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West Virginia flood was ‘one in a thousand year event,’ Weather Service says; more heavy rain forecast

Homes immersed by flooding in Rainelle, W.Va., on June 25. (Steve Helber/AP)

The torrential rain that inundated parts of southern and central West Virginia on Thursday was truly an exceptional meteorological event that has had devastating consequences.

In Greenbrier County, W.Va., where some of the worst flooding occurred, the National Weather Service described the responsible rainfall as “historic” and “extremely rare.” “Return period data suggest this would be nearly a one in a thousand year event,” it said.

‘Historic’ flood engulfs Greenbrier golf course, PGA event canceled

At least 23 people are confirmed dead from the floodwaters across West Virginia, including 15 in Greenbrier County, which was hardest hit.

This death toll is the highest from flash floods in the United States since May 2010, when 27 people died in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, CNN reported.

“The flooding we experienced Thursday and into [Friday] is among the worst in a century for some parts of the state,” said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D), who declared a state of emergency in 44 of West Virginia’s 55 counties Friday.

President Obama declared the flooding a “major disaster” Saturday, making funding available to individuals in Greenbrier, Kanawha, and Nicholas counties — all profoundly affected.

Historic flooding in West Virginia has killed at least 26 people with hundreds more who had to be rescued in the state's worst flooding in more than a century. (Video: Reuters)

The excessive rainfall caused some rivers to swell to record levels, numerous water rescues, tens of thousands of power outages, structural damage and displacement of hundreds of people.

In Kanawha County, where several fatalities occurred, the Elk River crested at 33.37 feet Friday morning, rising more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon. It marked its highest crest in 125 years of records.

Reuters reported that the state received, in a single day, one-quarter of its yearly rainfall.

In Greenbrier County, in excess of 10 inches fell and as much as seven inches fell in three hours.

The flooding arose from a nasty complex of storms that originally developed near Chicago late Wednesday. It formed on the edge of a bulging heat dome centered over Texas, that had produced record heat in the Southern California desert.

Following the jet stream, the storms surged through the Ohio Valley into West Virginia, where they unloaded the devastating rains.

More rain forecast

As the state attempts to recover from Thursday’s floods, more heavy rain is predicted from a slow-moving front Monday and Monday night.

The National Weather Service issued a special statement highlighting the potential for up to two to three inches of rain in a short amount of time in the same areas deluged Thursday.

“With hourly rain rates up to two inch in areas … flash flooding is considered possible,” the Weather Service said, noting already saturated soils.

A flash flood warning was in effect until 6 p.m. Monday for Summers and Greenbrier counties, with a flash flood watch in surrounding areas.

Third deadliest flood

While this event is considered one of the worst if not the worst on record in parts of West Virginia, it ranks as the third deadliest in state history.

Floods in November 1985 killed 47 people, more than half in Pendleton and Grant counties. The Associated Press reported: “The Potomac River at Paw Paw crested 29 feet above flood stage. More than 3,500 homes, 180 businesses and 43 bridges statewide were destroyed. Twenty-nine counties were declared federal disaster areas.”

125 people died in a flood that occurred in 1972 when a dam failed in Logan County.

A house that caught on fire during storms that rolled through West Virginia on June 23 was swept away into a creek in the city of White Sulphur Springs. (Video: Storyful)