Everyone has been found after reports of more than 40 people missing in a rural Virginia county inundated by a torrential downpour that tore homes from their foundations and damaged roads and bridges.
Crews worked overnight and through the morning in the flooded areas to help locate the 44 people who had been reported missing, Buchanan County Sheriff Chief Deputy Eric Breeding said in a news conference Thursday.
“We are happy to report that zero people are unaccounted for in the impact area,” Breeding said. “We’re also happy to report we are at zero fatalities.”
Six inches of rain in just hours Tuesday caused extensive damage in the western Virginia county, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said. “Combined with the fact that the area is mountainous, rainfall is able to collect quickly, and dangerous runoff occurred,” he said.
The “monumental” search effort for missing persons in Buchanan County covered about 30 miles and 400 structures, Virginia Department of Emergency Management search and rescue specialist Billy Chrimes said.
The state used six teams to assist, according to Chimes. Multiple search operations are ongoing, Chrimes said, “just to make sure that we don’t have anybody else out there.”
Those search efforts are expected to be wrapped up by sometime Thursday afternoon, he added.
The storm was swift and overwhelming, with widespread flooding and road closures reported in just a few hours. Radar estimates indicate 6 inches of rain fell in about four hours starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, corresponding with a rain event with a 1-in-1,000 chance of happening in a given year.
“We were sitting at this post office over here, and the next thing you know, the house is floating on down through there. We thought it was going to wash off. Two of the houses washed off,” resident Seth Owens told CNN affiliate WCYB.
Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency to help with recovery efforts.
As searches continue, the forecast Thursday and Friday calls for sun, with high temperatures in the lower to mid-80s, ahead of a slight chance of rain Saturday that increases Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The damaging storm was among several that lingered Tuesday night over the county and parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
This region of Appalachia is among those most prone to flash flooding in the country, with many areas also most at risk because of the growing threat of heavy rain, according to a CNN analysis of a report last year from a nonprofit climate research group, First Street Foundation.
The climate crisis is exacerbating flash flooding, too, by increasing the rate of rainfall or the amount of rain that falls in a short period of time. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, making extreme rainfall events more likely.
Driveways ‘fell down the mountain’
Events like this, in which massive amounts of water are dumped in a short period of time, “have increased in frequency and intensity in the Southeast,” according to the US government’s latest National Climate Assessment, “and there is high confidence they will continue to increase in the future.”
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Buchanan County around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. About two hours later, local officials began reporting widespread flooding and road closures.
Dominick Fragoso, who lives in Whitewood, said the water rose to his kneecaps.
“One of our neighbors’ driveways completely collapsed and fell down the mountain and fell down the creek,” Fragoso told the station.
The storm system also hit the Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where more than 400 people were evacuated Wednesday after more than 8 inches of rain fell, said Perrin Anderson, the assistant mayor for governmental affairs in Sevier County.
“Debris and vehicles washed downstream in the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River from the campground,” Anderson said.
More than 100 homes were damaged in southwestern Virginia, said Billy Chrimes, a search and rescue specialist with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
“It’s gonna take time for the access to be restored so we can get in,” Chrimes said.
Roads were blocked by landslides and approaches to bridges were washed out in the storm, he added.
“In the wake of the devastation, I want Virginians in Buchanan County to know that we are making every resource available to help those impacted by this storm,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement. “While rescue and recovery continues, please join me in prayer as we lift up our fellow Virginians impacted by this tragedy.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when the torrential rain fell. It was Tuesday.
CNN’s Claudia Dominguez, Brandon Miller and Raja Razek contributed to this report.