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Major flooding wreaks havoc

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

Rising creek and river waters Friday night and Saturday forced many people throughout North Central West Virginia to temporarily evacuate their homes.

While Gov. Cecil Underwood declared a state of emergency in 10 counties, including Harrison, most officials said the evacuations were precautionary.

"We had a few basements flooded and transported a couple of people, but nothing very serious," said Weston firefighter Kevin Riley. "It was more nuisance problems for residents than actual flood damage."

The Harrison County Chapter of the American Red Cross, which serves Harrison, Barbour, Doddridge, Lewis, Upshur and Randolph counties, opened several emergency shelters Friday night. All were closed by late Saturday afternoon, said Executive Director Jim Minutelli.

Red Cross personnel will be conducting damage assessments today, and Minutelli asked any resident with flood damage to contact the Red Cross at 624-7689 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Only two Harrison County shelters, Shinnston and Salem, actually were used. A Doddridge County shelter was put on standby but never opened.

"The Red Cross did a great job coming in here and opening up the shelter," said Shinnston firefighter Danny Pratt. "Probably within an hour of us calling them, they had the shelter set up."

About 10 people gathered in the Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department Friday night and another 10-15 were sheltered in the Wyatt Grade School, Pratt said.

Firefighters also responded to many houses to assist residents with shutting off hot water heaters and furnaces.

In Clarksburg and throughout Harrison County, many streets remained impassable Saturday afternoon because of flood waters.

Buckhannon was all but cut off from the rest of world as much of the low-lying areas were flooded, said Buckhannon firefighter Joe Bennett. About 40 people were evacuated from the homes, mostly for precautionary reason, he said.

Many of the roads around Buckhannon, including Turkey Run and roads in Adrian, were still impassable late Saturday afternoon.

While many residents and emergency officials had braced for significant flooding and damage, the results of Friday's storm were not as bad as many had feared.

"Thank goodness the rain stopped," Pratt said. "We had some good rains Friday morning and then it kind of slacked off before picking back up again. If we hadn't have had that three-hour break, things would've been a lot worse."

And things should continue to get better as the flood waters recede. No precipitation is expected in the area until Tuesday, said Nicole Belk, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

"We're looking at a dry forecast through Monday," she said. "We should see some showers Tuesday, but nothing very heavy. That will give the streams and creeks time to go back down before we see any more rains."

By late Saturday afternoon, most of the area's streams and creeks had already drained into the larger rivers, causing them to swell even further.

The West Fork River crested at about 18 feet Saturday afternoon, well above the 13-foot flood stage, Belk said.

The Tygart Valley River crested about eight feet above flood stage in Philippi and about two feet above flood stage in Belington.

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