More than 100 homes were damaged and at least 40 people were unaccounted for on Wednesday after powerful storms swept through southwestern Virginia and brought heavy flooding and landslides, local officials said.
More than 4.5 inches of rain fell on Buchanan County, which borders Kentucky and West Virginia in southwestern Virginia, on Tuesday night, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The area lies inside the Appalachian Mountains and the mountain ridges acted like a funnel for the rain, as the river rose quickly and overflowed onto roads. Homes were swept off their foundations and people were forced to wade through waist-deep water to reach safety.
No fatalities or injuries have been reported, the authorities said. The number of people considered unaccounted for — 44 children and adults, as of Wednesday night — is derived from the number of people whom loved ones or family have not been able to reach or contact.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they are in trouble or danger, it’s just that we need to go check on them,” Chief Deputy Eric Breeding of the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia issued a state of emergency on Wednesday, and nearly 20 search and rescue organizations were helping Buchanan County, which is home to less than 20,000 people, according to census data.
“I am deeply saddened at the devastating news of flooding in Buchanan County,” Mr. Youngkin wrote on Twitter. “We are making every resource available to help those impacted.”
Billy Chrimes, a search and rescue specialist from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said the effects of the flooding were causing delays in checking on people and rescuing them.
“A lot of roadways are blocked by landslides, bridges, the approaches to those bridges are washed out,” Mr. Chrimes said at the news conference. “It’s going to take time for that access to be restored, make contact with everyone and make sure they have their basic needs taken care of.”
J.R. Miller, 39, said he spoke by FaceTime with his aunt and grandfather, who live in Pilgrim’s Knob, when the rain grew heavier.
He watched as his 79-year-old grandfather tried to haul his beloved power tools to higher ground so they wouldn’t get damaged. Mr. Miller said his family members watched as the Dismal Creek across the street rose and eventually flooded over the road by at least three feet.
“Never in my almost 40 years have I ever seen anything like it,” Mr. Miller recalled about what he saw on FaceTime.
Mr. Miller, who now lives in China Grove, N.C., said that the two relatives started shoving valuables into bags to try to salvage what they could as they realized they needed to get to higher ground. They waded across the street in waist-high water to help a neighbor before making their way to the post office, which was visible from the home.
Once they reached safety, Mr. Miller said, his family were able to send a text letting them know they had made it. They also shared with him that several homes had been washed off their foundations and trucks had been catapulted more than 500 feet down the road by strong currents.
The home his grandfather had lived in for more than 20 years is most likely destroyed, Mr. Miller said. Relatives told him there was more than six feet of water inside the house and the refrigerator had been thrown sideways on the ground.
Mr. Miller said his grandfather and aunt — and most people in the area — were without cellphone service. The area has poor service to begin with, he said, and relies heavily on Wi-Fi.
“It’s a really tight-knit community,” Mr. Miller said. “Everybody basically lives their whole lives there. It’s an area that has taken a very hard hit.”