ANSTED, W.Va. – Two men who were presumed dead when a camper was swept away in rushing waters during the West Virginia floods were found alive, officials said Monday as more heavy rain fell on already-soaked parts of the state.
The discovery of the men lowers the death toll to 23, officials said. That number includes 20 bodies found and three people who are missing and presumed dead.
The men were either camping or getting ready to set up camp when the rain started last Thursday, said Timothy Rock, spokesman for West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The left all of their gear and their truck at the camp site in the Blue Bend area of the Monongahela National Forest in Greenbrier County, the hardest-hit area, and caught a ride out with another party.
“I think the first responders must have reported them missing and that got into them being just presumed dead. Then they wound up turning up yesterday,” Rock said.
Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill said the men just left their belongings at the campground and went home. Cahill also said the men were never on his office’s presumed dead list.
The men were from the Bluefield area about a two-hour drive from the campsite. Rock and Cahill did not know their names.
The National Weather Service warned downpours Monday could bring a half-inch of rain or more in some areas ravaged by flooding, including Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas counties.
“Everybody’s just keeping an eye on the sky” as search and rescue teams continue to check whether everyone is accounted for, Rock said. If the storms intensify, rescue crews may have to pull back.
Early indications are that hundreds, perhaps thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed. The only county to give an updated number to state officials was Roane County, which reported 500 properties damaged. Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are taking stock of the disaster and National Guard crews were removing debris.
More than 400 people were staying in 17 shelters across the state, and many people were trying to come to grips with ruined property and where they’ll live next. Others formed armed patrols to protect what was left of their homes and possessions after reports of looting.
Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler warned potential looters in a statement posted to Facebook that anyone caught would be arrested and jailed, according to WCHS-TV (http://bit.ly/28Yjjm8).
“If the residents of this area catch you first, you may not make it to jail,” he said.
On Sunday, dozens of residents from flooded-out Rainelle remained at a shelter more than 25 miles away at the Ansted Baptist Church, where singing from inside mixed with the bustle of activity outside.
The church’s gymnasium has been converted to a shelter. The church also is a drop-off point for donated goods as well as a makeshift kennel for dog owners.
For now, it’s home for Jerry Reynolds, his wife, Janice, and his brother, Marcus Reynolds.
Janice Reynolds said she drove back to Rainelle on Saturday to survey the damage. She said her home was destroyed, a vehicle was lost in the floodwaters and the community “smelled like death.”
Bill Kious of Rainelle was asked how those at the shelter, many of them on modest incomes, were able to stay positive.
“Frankly, because we’ve lived a rough lifestyle,” Kious said. “It’s a nature to us that we can’t get rid of.”
Rick Lewis of the Nuttall Fire Department said 129 people were staying Sunday at the church gymnasium. Many more Rainelle residents were sent to other shelters, he said.
Among those taking advantage of the shelter’s kennel was T.J. Parker of Rainelle and his pet Titan.
Parker said he and Titan had to swim four blocks to safety. Along the way, he stopped to rescue an elderly man calling for help and brought him through floodwaters to a fire department. Parker said he had to go under water and hold his breath to support the man and come up for air.
“I realize that sounds crazy, but you have to do what you have to do at that time,” Parker said.
Authorities have yet to start sizing up the flood damage in West Virginia. But it is drawing comparisons to November 1985 floods that remain the state’s most expensive natural disaster with more than $570 million in damage.
The 1985 floods left 47 dead in West Virginia, more than half of them in Pendleton and Grant counties. The Potomac River at Paw Paw crested 29 feet above flood stage. More than 3,500 homes, 180 businesses and 43 bridges statewide were destroyed. Twenty-nine counties were declared federal disaster areas.