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Relief in West Virginia: Rains don’t approach dire forecast

September 18, 2018

FILE - In this Saturday, June 25, 2016 file photo, Lt. Dennis Feazell, of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, watches for debris as he and a co-worker search flooded homes in Rainelle, W. Va. National Weather Service guidance says the currently projected scenario from Hurricane Florence "could result in catastrophic flooding rainfall" across the mountains of western North Carolina, western Virginia, and eastern West Virginia late this week.(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Worried West Virginians got a reprieve when forecasts of potential devastating floods didn’t come to fruition from the remnants of Hurricane Florence.

The storm brought 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of rain in most parts of the state before moving out early Tuesday. That’s nowhere near the amount that, before the storm made landfall, forecasters said could result in “life threatening, catastrophic flooding rainfall” across the mountains of western North Carolina, western Virginia and eastern West Virginia.

As the storm shifted, so did the forecasts. The hurricane and its remnants smashed rainfall records in North and South Carolina and caused problems in Virginia as it moved into the Northeast, where flash floods hit New Hampshire and New York state. Up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain fell in Floyd County in southwestern Virginia, flooding homes and farms. There have been at least 26 confirmed fatalities in North Carolina and at least two deaths in Virginia.

In West Virginia, which is still recovering from a 2016 flood that killed 23 people statewide, there was a big sense of relief Tuesday.

“Everything went good,” Rainelle Police Chief J.P. Stevens said. “No flood or nothing. There was a lot of people that were definitely worried.”

State Homeland Security and Emergency Management officials wanted to be ready this time, opened an emergency operations center in advance of the storm and 50 National Guard members were prepared to assist in locations across the state.

In June 2016, nine inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell in 36 hours with little warning in some areas, destroying thousands of homes, businesses and infrastructure. Fifteen people died in Greenbrier County alone in 2016. The communities of Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs saw significant property damage, including at the posh Greenbrier resort.

In June 2012 a derecho or straight-line windstorm killed three people and left more than 680,000 customers across the state of 1.8 million residents without electricity. Some had to wait nearly two weeks to have their power restored following the severe windstorm that hit with little warning.

In Rainelle, officials had moved a fleet of vehicles to higher ground in anticipation of Florence’s remnants. The Red Cross had mobilized its services in the area and the town bought a bus to use in case evacuations were required.

“People in the county, especially in those areas that was affected in 2016, they are certainly uneasy whenever there’s a forecast like that having gone through what they did,” Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan said Tuesday. “It’s hard to imagine really what goes through their minds.”

There were occasional downpours this week, and Rainelle Mayor Andy Pendleton said there were “anxious” moments until the storm finally passed.

The storm’s lingering impact in West Virginia was a warning for moderate flooding along the Shenandoah River in the Eastern Panhandle through Thursday.

“We were preparing for the worst and certainly thankful that the storm did not affect us the way it was originally forecast,” Sloan said.

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