Storm creates havoc along South Branch, in mountains

A “wall of water” shut down the South Branch to recreational use in Hampshire County Sunday and sent local fire and water rescue units scrambling to aid upriver.

“It was just like a 5-foot wall of water coming down the river – straight up and right back down,” Springfield Fire Chief Jerry Loudin said.

The National Weather Service’s gauge on the South Branch at Springfield rose from its normal summer level of 2 feet at 9:45 p.m. Sunday to 7.5 feet by 12:30 a.m. Monday – less than 3 hours. As of dawn Tuesday, it was back down under 3 feet.

The surge came from a sudden, hard rain Saturday night and Sunday morning that washed out roads, caused rockslides and stranded people in nearby Grant, Pendleton, Tucker, Randolph and Preston counties.

Gov. Jim Justice declared the counties a disaster area Monday.

The swift-water rescue team from Romney and Springfield was called into action Sunday between Old Fields and Moorefield when the rapidly rising water overtook 3 tubers, forcing them onto an island.

“There was no access to get them back across without a swift-water removal,” Loudin said.

Two Hampshire County fire crews went to the Seneca Rocks area and west Sunday to assist evacuations. Aerial photos showed the Rocks completely surrounded by water at the height of the flooding Sunday morning.

Tiny Harman, 18 miles west of Seneca Rocks in Randolph County, had the worst damage. The fire company there took a direct hit and was out of service.

“Crews from Hampshire, Hardy and Mineral counties will be sending apparatus and personnel for the next 48 hours to cover them ’til they can get back in order,” Loudin said Monday morning shortly before he and a Springfield company left for Harman to take an overnight shift.

The water “actually picked up and moved school buses. It flipped them over,” Randolph County Delegate Cody Thompson told WVMetroNews. “It moved tractor trailers, so it was a massive amount of water and very, very powerful.”

Highways were especially hard hit, shutting down U.S. 50 in Preston County and washing out shoulders and chunks of road on Route 33 in western Pendleton County.

The National Weather Service said Bayard in northern Grant County picked up 4.71 inches rain Saturday night into Sunday morning. o


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