Officials Concerned About West Virginia Dam After Massive Flooding

Hundreds of Lincoln County residents remained out of their homes early Monday as officials worked to pump thousands of gallons of water from a private lake to keep an unstable earthen dam from collapsing.

Water levels in Lee's Fishing Lake had been reduced more than 3 feet early Monday as crews pumped nearly 500,000 gallons an hour out of the lake. The 22-foot-high dam is located about 2 miles upstream from the town of Hamlin.

"The face of the dam has slipped, and the pipe that goes through the dam to drain water is clogged, so water is not coming through the pipe, it's coming around the pipe and around the sides of the dam," said Allen Holder, Lincoln County emergency services director.

Hamlin Mayor Brian Barrett said if the dam breaks, it could send millions of gallons of water into the Lincoln County community.

"We're concerned with the immediate wake of water that would come with the initial surge," Barrett told the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington. "We're being told it could be eight or nine feet of water."

Up to 2.5 inches of rain fell over the weekend, causing widespread flooding. Continued high water officials to cancel all classes in Boone, Greenbrier, Logan and Pendleton counties.

The National Weather Service posted flood warnings Monday for the Coal, Greenbrier, Tug Fork and Tygart Valley rivers. All were expected to crest by late Monday, with minor flooding.

Emergency officials reported rescues and evacuations in Boone, Greenbrier, Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties on Sunday. At least two people were injured and two others were unaccounted for.

"It's about as bad as it can get," said Scott Beckett, chief of the Logan Fire Department. "This thing came down at 2 or 3 in the morning, when people were sleeping in their beds. They just didn't know what was happening."

High water or mud blocked major roads in several counties Monday morning, the Division of Highways reported.

Water surrounded 94-year-old Mildred Frost's home on Coon Branch Road, leaving no way out.

"Our houses sit in the middle of the hill, and it's all around us. I'm surrounded, it's like a lake completely around us," said Frost's granddaughter, Samantha Walker, 29, who along with her husband and two children were staying with Frost.

She said the family was waiting out the flooding.

"All the back roads have been completely blocked off, so we can't get out even if we wanted to get out," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Gov. Joe Manchin issued an emergency disaster declaration late Sunday. A declaration would allow the governor to call in the National Guard if necessary.

No damage estimates were immediately available.

"We've dodged a bullet. We're going to do everything we can to help them. We'll be there for them and do everything we can," Manchin told The Logan Banner in a telephone interview from Miami, where he was attending a seminar on coal liquefaction.

In Boone County, floodwaters heavily damaged downtown Madison, submerging an insurance office, a motorcycle dealership and part of Main Street. Water also covered a playground.

"I'm not waiting to be told to leave. I'm leaving, you better believe it," said Kathryn Ball, who left her apartment with only her pocketbook and an umbrella.

Chuck Runyon, assistant chief of the Madison Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters had rescued nine people and two dogs in the area since 8 a.m.

Floodwaters entered about 30 businesses and 90 homes in Logan County and two people were unaccounted for, said Roger Bryant, Logan County emergency services director.

It was the county's worst flooding since Memorial Day 2004, he said.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., toured flooded areas in Logan County late Sunday afternoon. He said streams clogged with garbage, discarded furniture and other debris worsened the flooding in Logan County.

"We've got some unique problems here that aren't problems even in the rest of the state," Rahall said.