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Children Bodies Swept Away in Flood Found

November 22, 2003

COUNCIL, Va. (AP) _ A wall of water from a rain-swollen creek broke through a culvert and swept away five mobile homes, killing two young children who were torn from their parents’ arms.

The bodies of Kayley Runyon, 4, and her brother, Christian, 2, were recovered Friday in a river about a mile from where their home once stood, Buchanan County Sheriff Paul Crouse said.

About 50 sheriff’s deputies and volunteers had searched the hilly terrain of southwest Virginia since Thursday afternoon, when the culvert holding back Laurel Branch Creek gave way.

``We considered it a disaster,″ Crouse said Friday. ``We mobilized everyone we could find.″

Witnesses said the Runyons’ trailer was the first thing the water hit as it crashed down the hillside, covering a road in a torrent more than 50 feet wide and sweeping away everything in its path. In addition to the five homes, six cars were lost.

``I saw the water spraying,″ Mike Hurley said. ``Lord, it was spraying like you’d turned a spillway loose. I could hear the trees falling.″

The children’s parents, Doug and Misty Runyon, told searchers the family was inside the home when the water washed it down a hill and swept the children out of their arms.

Nearby residents were able to rescue the parents. Steve Hunt saw the Runyons washed up on the hillside, crying for their children.

``She said, ’Find my babies,‴ Hunt said. ``It broke my heart.″

April Hargis was away when the washout happened. She came home to find her trailer destroyed.

``I walked up through here and it was gone,″ she said. ``There’s nothing left but dirt and rocks.″

At least nine people died elsewhere in the storms that swept across the Appalachians and Eastern Seaboard earlier this week, including three construction workers washed away as they repaired a culvert along an interstate in Maryland.

The governors of Virginia and West Virginia declared states of emergency in several hard-hit counties, including the Virginia county where the children were swept away.

In West Virginia, the second major storm in two weeks damaged more than 1,800 homes and caused millions of dollars in damage.

In western Pennsylvania, runoff from heavy rain sent rivers over their banks, flooding a major highway through Pittsburgh and lapping up to the steps of the Steelers’ Heinz Field and the Pirates’ PNC Park on the Allegheny River.

The other deaths from the storm were those of a Baltimore boy who drowned when he fell in a swollen creek as he tried to retrieve his bookbag, a man who drowned in Tennessee when his canoe overturned, a West Virginia man found dead in a creek, and three people who died in vehicles that ran into high water or crashed in the rain.

In some areas, less than 2 inches of rain fell, but the already saturated ground and leaf-clogged drains led to flooding along scores of roads and streets.

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