US & Canada

West Virginia deadly floods: Obama declares major disaster

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Media captionFlooding and wildfires have killed dozens and forced thousands of people from their homes, as Reged Ahmad reports

US President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in the state of West Virginia, where the worst floods in more than a century have left at least 24 people dead.

Mr Obama ordered federal aid for three of the worst affected counties following a request by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

Residents will now receive grants for temporary housing and repairs.

More than 30,000 homes and businesses are without power.

Heavy rain on Thursday turned rivers and streams into torrents, cutting off several towns.

The floods are the worst in a century in some areas and hundreds of people have had to be rescued.

President Obama "ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides", a White House statement said.

Mr Tomblin said the federal help included medical support and housing to Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties.

Officials were still assessing the damage in other areas and additional requests for aid could follow, he added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The town of Clendenin was covered in mud after the Elk River flooded
Image copyright AP
Image caption The most affected areas will receive federal aid
Image copyright West Virginia Department of Transportation/Reuters
Image caption Damage to roads stranded hundreds

West Virginia received a quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day, the US National Weather Service said.

A storm system dumped up to 10 inches (250mm) of rain on parts of the state, causing rivers and streams to overflow.

Tough task

More than 100 homes were destroyed, some of them torn from their foundations and carried away, and an estimated 32,000 residences were still without power.

Teams removed people from upper-floor windows, tops of trees and cars.

Image copyright AP
Image caption This house was torn from its foundation and burned after the foods
Image copyright West Virginia Department of Transportation/Reuters
Image caption Governor Tomblin said the rescue effort was challenging

Among those rescued were a 97-year-old woman and a family of five including an infant, officials said.

About 500 people were trapped in a shopping centre as crews scrambled to build a new gravel road to reach them.

Meanwhile, officials continued to try to reach others stranded in devastated areas.

States of emergency have been declared in 44 of the state's 55 counties, and up to 500 soldiers have been authorised to assist in the rescue operations.