By David Bailey
(Reuters) – West Virginia’s three most devastated counties and possibly others will receive federal assistance after the state’s worst flooding in more than a century killed at least 24 people, officials said on Saturday.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for West Virginia and ordered federal aid to affected individuals in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties that could include grants for temporary housing, repairs and other programs.
Obama spoke with West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Saturday afternoon to give his condolences and make sure the governor has the federal resources he needs, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
West Virginia’s death toll from flooding is the highest for any U.S. state this year, with 16 deaths reported in Greenbrier County in southeast West Virginia, where the heaviest rain fell, and six in Kanahwa County, officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials were assessing damage in at least six other counties and the state may ask for additional assistance, Tomblin said. Ohio and Jackson counties also reported one death each.
The death toll in West Virginia is the highest in any state from flooding this year. At least 16 people, including nine U.S. soldiers, were killed in flooding in Texas earlier in June.
Up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rain fell on Thursday in the mountainous state, sending torrents of water from rivers and streams through homes and causing widespread devastation.
Tomblin has declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and expects 400 members of the West Virginia National Guard to help rescue efforts on Saturday. About 32,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Saturday.
Hundreds of people have been rescued and search and rescue teams were looking for more people on Saturday, said Tim Rock, spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Some towns were completely surrounded by water and hundreds of houses and buildings have been lost, Rock said.
The Greenbrier resort was closed indefinitely and PGA Tour officials said on Saturday the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament due to begin on July 7 had been canceled because of extensive flood damage.
West Virginia received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day and multiple rivers surged to dangerous levels, including the Elk River, which broke a record at one stage that had stood since 1888.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)