Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia President Obama has declared a major disaster in West Virginia after flooding killed at least 24 people. The town of Rainelle started to clean up today as waters began to recede.
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Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia

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Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia

Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia

Waters Begin To Recede, Leaving Disaster In West Virginia

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/483624367/483624368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Obama has declared a major disaster in West Virginia after flooding killed at least 24 people. The town of Rainelle started to clean up today as waters began to recede.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

In West Virginia, three counties have been approved for federal disaster aid after flash floods tore through the state on Friday. Houses were swept away. Electricity went out. Gas lines broke, and, in many towns, fires followed the floods. At least 24 people died. Now as the floodwaters recede, people in the hardest-hit towns are trying to figure out what comes next. Rebecca Hersher reports from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Robin Frazier manages a McDonald's restaurant just off Route 64. The restaurant is tucked between a hill and a creek, which means when the water began to rise on Friday there was really only one place for it to go. Frazier was at home that afternoon.

ROBIN FRAZIER: And everybody kept messaging me saying, is your store OK? And I was like, what are you talking about? And then I found out it's flooded. So water was probably three feet up - up to the store. My - a bunch of my employees had to go up on the roof - had to be evacuated. Some of my employees lost family members.

HERSHER: Frazier manages about a dozen employees. They're all local, all live in and around White Sulphur Springs. She says, days after the flood she still can't believe how much was destroyed.

FRAZIER: Devastation. I mean, just knowing people lost their lives. It's hard to deal with. Everything's ruined. We're looking at weeks 'til we get power. Some people - some of my employees might not get power for three months. They don't have anything, so it's hard.

HERSHER: Up and down the road between the McDonald's and the town center, there are still ambulances and fire trucks screaming away. Although, they can't go very quickly. The asphalt is all bumpy where the water got under it. They're responding to emergency calls, but there hasn't been a rescue in over 24 hours.

Down the road next to the creek, there's a fancy and famous golf course called the Greenbrier. The PGA Tour was supposed to come here in a few weeks, but the grass is torn up and the fences are mangled. The golf tournament has been cancelled, which is big news for a lot of golf fans, but not so much for local folks. Even though the golf course is a big employer in town, a lot of people here are frustrated with the attention it's been getting.

GOLDEN VANCE: It's a tragedy. I mean, they're more worried about some people knocking a golf ball around on a golf course than the community.

HERSHER: In town, Golden Vance flips burgers.

VANCE: Did you say you wanted some cheese on it?

HERSHER: He grew up here. He set up his grill on Main street, serving food to people who lost everything. More than a dozen people died in this county. Vance knew four of them.

VANCE: And I have family that lives here and a lot of friends. I've lost - I lost several friends in this flood. And a lot of these people that lost their houses and everything - I mean, I don't know what they're going to do. I mean, we need help in this community.

HERSHER: Vance is just one of hundreds of volunteers making food and organizing shelters and handing out water. A lot of the volunteers were also affected. They have homes still full of water or they know people who were killed. Nonetheless, they have turned out to help their neighbors along with state, local police and hundreds of members of the National Guard.

But as people begin to rebuild, everyone is looking for more help from the federal government. Residents here and in two other counties are now eligible for federal emergency assistance. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Hersher in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

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Obama Declares Major Disaster In West Virginia After Historic Flooding

West Virginia State Trooper C.S. Hartman walks from a shed that he checked out as he and other crews search homes on Saturday in Rainelle, W.Va. Steve Helber/AP hide caption

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Steve Helber/AP

West Virginia State Trooper C.S. Hartman walks from a shed that he checked out as he and other crews search homes on Saturday in Rainelle, W.Va.

Steve Helber/AP

President Obama has declared a major disaster in West Virginia after flash flooding left at least 23 people dead and devastated communities.

The historic floods are the worst in a century for portions of the state, the governor has said, and destroyed or seriously damaged at least 100 homes. Water levels reached as high as rooftops in some areas. More than 30,000 people are without power, according to the state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Obama's declaration makes funding available to three of the hardest-hit counties in the state – Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas. It is meant to assist with "temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," according to a statement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This federal support will provide much needed assistance to severely-impacted regions," West Virginia's governor Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. "As emergency response efforts continue, with members of the National Guard and local emergency responders hard at work helping our neighbors, we will continue pursuing additional assistance for all affected areas."

This comes after FEMA officials toured some of the most impacted areas on foot and by air on Saturday, as West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Mara tells our Newscast unit.

Until now, most of the rescue, cleanup and support efforts have come from local communities, as the member station's Kara Lofton reports on Weekend Edition Sunday.

In the town of Clendenin, Lofton met Marsha Larch, who has lived in the same home for 50 years. Now, as Lofton reports, "stinking mud covered the surface of everything: recycling, furniture and even clothes that had washed out from the living room inside."

Larch says she is forced to abandon her home because it is at risk of collapsing onto a riverbank. "I worked for 36 years for the power company and I retired and worked on my home and got it all ready and now it's gone," Larch adds.

Less Mitch of the West Virginia FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team tells Lofton that his team is still conducting searches for people trapped inside buildings.

Flooding on the 17th green of the Old White Course at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Severe flooding hit the area that was scheduled to host a PGA Tour event in two weeks. Cam Huffman/AP hide caption

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Cam Huffman/AP

"You'll go from what looks to be normal, everyday houses," Mitch says, "to complete destruction, just the foundations left with nothing but mud."

As of Saturday, emergency officials are shifting gears in most parts of the state from response to recovery, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

The PGA Tour announced that it has canceled an upcoming golf tournament in Greenbrier, one of the three counties Obama declared a major disaster.

"We are heartbroken by the devastation that the residents of West Virginia are experiencing at this time and the reports of lives lost due to the terrible flooding," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem says in a statement. "All of our focus needs to be on helping all of the people of our great State. So many have lost loved ones, their homes, and have no place to go," says Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier.

The Greenbrier Resort posted this before-and-after shot of its course on Twitter: