(CNN) — West Virginia rescue crews worked steadily overnight and into the morning to answer emergency calls from residents stranded by fast-moving floodwaters that state officials say have killed at least 23 people.
Heavy rain battered much of the state earlier this week, and floodwaters pouring out of creeks and rivers prompted scores of rescue calls. Utilities were working to restore power for residents and businesses.
The high waters were receding Saturday, but officials, such as those in Kanawha County, are warning people to watch out for “flood debris, downed power lines and downed trees.”
Along with responding to rescue emergencies, Kanawha County Sheriff spokesman Brian Humphreys said deputies were going to pharmacies to get medications for people affected by the flooding.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin activated 200 National Guard members to assist in eight counties and has authorization to activate as many as 300 more, if needed.
Tomblin declared states of emergency in 44 counties Thursday night. Eleven remaining counties, located in the northern and eastern panhandles, were excluded from the emergency declaration. The communities of Elkview, Clendenin and Frame, located in Kanawha County, were particularly hard hit.
He said the flooding is the worst in a century for some parts of the state.
“Together with the National Guard, our first responders, local emergency management officials and firefighters from across the state have been working around the clock, and we are deeply appreciative of their efforts,” Tomblin said in a statement.
Twenty-three deaths have been reported by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, including 15 in Greenbrier County, and six in Kanawha County. At least two children were killed in the deluge, including a 4-year-old boy who was washed away by floodwaters in Jackson County, officials said.
Homes and infrastructure across the state have been severely damaged and washed away. High terrain along rivers speeded the rapid floodwaters. As of 6:30 a.m., there were 158 emergency rescue calls in Kanawha County, the sheriff’s office said. Charleston, the state capital, is in Kanawha, located in the southwestern part of the state.
A 1,000-year flood
The high terrain along rivers is exacerbating the flooding, meteorologists said.
Weather radar estimates show that more than 10 inches of rain have fallen in portions of Greenbrier County. There is a one in 1,000 chance of this type of rainfall happening in any given year, according to the National Weather Service.
In Kanawha County, which includes the capital of Charleston, the Elkview River crested at 33.37 feet Friday morning, meteorologists said.
The river rose more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, the highest crest since record-keeping began more than 125 years ago, according to the weather service.
500 stranded at a mall for more than a day
In that same county, nearly 500 people were stranded at the Elkview Crossings Mall in Elkview for more than 24 hours starting on Thursday, when rain washed out an access road, officials said.
By Friday night, emergency workers had constructed a temporary gravel road to get all the people who were stranded by flood waters to exit, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Homes washed away
Thursday night unfolded like a horrific movie for 26-year-old Chad Agner of White Sulphur Springs, in Greenbrier County in the southern part of the state.
“The flooding looked like the ocean. There were these big waves,” Agner said.
As the rain intensified, Agner, who was planning to grab dinner with a friend, decided to head to his apartment instead, only to find his neighbor submerged in knee-deep water.
“The water was so high,” Agner said. He decided against going inside his apartment to retrieve his belongings.
Agner said he saw the flood sweeping away homes and cars before his eyes.
“The house in front of where my apartment used to be is turned over. Some houses are totally gone,” he told CNN. “My apartment is gone.”
Other residents of White Sulphur Springs said the floods launched a home off its foundation and down Howard’s Creek.
Helpless witnesses said the house caught fire and was burning as it floated down the stream, which runs through the town.
Golf resort under water
Also in White Sulphur Springs, the storms severely impacted The Greenbrier, a luxury resort set to host the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic in July.
Professional PGA golfer Bubba Watson, who was at the resort when the storms hit, shared a photo and video on his Twitter account showing the grounds covered in fast-moving brown water.
Because of “widespread damage” from the heavy flooding, the resort will be closed until further notice, The Greenbrier announced on Twitter.
Resort owner Jim Justice released a statement saying that their focus is on helping the people, not “the property, the golf course, or anything else.”