- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

SALTVILLE, Va. (AP) Flooding spawned by heavy rains forced evacuations, blocked roads and caused widespread damage in Southwestern Virginia yesterday.
There were no reports of injuries or deaths, but Gov. Mark R. Warner declared a state of emergency for seven counties Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Washington and Wise and the city of Norton. He ordered up to 100 members of the National Guard and heavy equipment to help with evacuations.
The National Weather Service said 4 to 7 inches of rain had fallen in the region over 36 hours.
Record flooding along the north fork of the Holston River drove 15 persons from their homes in Saltville and was expected to cause widespread damage to property and roads.
"We've been hit pretty hard," Saltville Police Chief Steve Surber said. "It's the worst I've ever seen, and I've been here 20 years."
The Holston flooding also forced the evacuation of 30 families farther south in Washington County.
About 60 people were isolated by either high water or mudslides near the tiny town of St. Paul in Lee County, but none was in danger, said Janet Clements, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Another 20 Lee County residents were evacuated to a shelter.
The main street of Coeburn in Wise County was under at least 6 inches of water that continued to rise, Miss Clements said.
"Four or five mobile home parks have up to 5 feet of water flowing through them," she said.
In Wise County as a whole, about 400 people were evacuated to shelters, said Sgt. Teresa Meade with the county sheriff's department.
"Many vehicles were lost," Sgt. Meade said. "Quite a bit of livestock has been lost, too."
Outside the community of Dorchester, near Norton, sheriff's department Maj. Gene Vanover "waded through chest-high water to rescue a motorist stranded in the middle of the roadway," Sgt. Meade said.
Minor mudslides occurred in numerous locations around the county, and several roads remained closed yesterday afternoon as a result, Sgt. Meade said. High water also kept some bridges closed.
Chief Surber said State Route 91 was blocked by Holston floodwaters near the community of Tumbling Creek. Flooding also broke the main water line into Saltville, a town of 2,300, and a sewer line crossing the river into the Cedar Branch area, he said.
Chief Surber said he expects the flood to cause "a lot of property damage. There's a lot of property underwater."
Mike Gillen, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said the Holston rose to record flood levels early yesterday. The river crested at Saltville at 14.9 feet at 11 a.m, nearly 5 feet above flood stage. That level exceeded the 13.6-foot record set in November 1977.
Mr. Gillen said the Clinch River also was above flood stage at Richlands in Tazewell County. The river crested at 11.7 feet at 11 a.m., less than 2 feet above flood stage of 10 feet.
It was the second major flood in Tazewell County in the past eight months. Nearly 700 homes and 50 businesses in the county were damaged in July by flooding and mudslides triggered by more than 3 inches of rain in about two hours.
Drought-plagued farmers in western Virginia shouldn't be too encouraged by the rain, Mr. Gillen added.
"The drought we're having is concerned primarily with deep-soil moisture," he said. "Most of this rain has run off too fast to reach down into the deeper soil levels. It should help in the short run, by preventing the growth that's emerging now from withering and dying, but we won't know for a while how much of it has soaked in."

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