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Flash Floods W V A*

Flash floods batter West Virginia

By JENNIFER BUNDY, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (July 8, 8:00 p.m. CDT) - The governor's helicopter plucked people off roofs Sunday and transported a heart patient to a hospital after heavy rains triggered flash floods and mudslides.

At least one person was believed dead while others were trapped in several trailer homes swept away by rain-swollen creeks, authorities said.

Gov. Bob Wise was touring flooded areas when his helicopter was needed to aid rescue efforts.

"What we have seen is all water. Bridges washed away, roads totally covered for long stretches," Wise said by telephone from Pineville in southern West Virginia while waiting for his chopper to return.

Wise declared a state of emergency in eight counties. Storms in May and June caused millions in damages in the state and 16 counties, including most of those flooded Sunday, remain eligible for federal disaster relief.

"We can't get nowhere. The water has us blocked. Families have lost homes on top of homes. It's the worst I've ever seen it. I've lived in Pineville all my life," said Linda Tollivar, 33.

"We have no power, no water. We have no food. We can't get to the store to buy food. The only thing we have access to is the telephone."

The Guyandotte River spilled its banks in Mullens in Wyoming County, and people sat on top of businesses and homes waiting to be rescued there and in nearby towns.

"My whole county is blocked off," said Dean Meadows, the county emergency services director. "I've got several people trapped I can't get to."

He said the body of an unidentified elderly woman had been seen floating against a fence, but no one had been able to reach it.

At least four mobile homes with people believed trapped inside were floating in Laurel Creek and Clear Fork, he said. Rescuers in boats had been able to reach some of the floating homes.

American Electric Power shut off electricity to Mullens at the urging of officials who feared the danger of downed power lines.

Elsewhere, trees were toppled and gas and water lines broken after the downpours late Saturday and early Sunday.

Nearly 7 inches of rain was reported by a weather observer near Beckley, said Tom Mazza, a weather service meteorologist. Bluefield got 3.2 inches; 2.04 fell at Yeager Airport in Charleston.

By late afternoon, the Guyandotte and Tug Fork rivers were at record levels.

The Guyandotte was at 18 feet, five feet above flood stage and above the 1977 record of 17.76 feet, meteorologist John Sikora said.

The Tug Fork was at 17.5 feet in southern West Virginia, 7.5 feet over its banks and more than four feet above the previous high.

More rain was expected in the area Sunday evening.

"This is totally a different flood from what we saw six months or six weeks ago," Wise said. "The last one was serious. On a Richter scale the last was 1 and this is 8 or 9."

In southwestern Virginia, more than two dozen families were evacuated from homes in Tazewell County Sunday because of flooding caused by the same storm.

(Original Len: 3730 Condensed Len: 4013)

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