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Infant body found in submerged car in flooded West Virginia

Posted at 5:18 PM, Feb 17, 2023

The body of an infant was found in a submerged car Friday in southern West Virginia after floodwaters swept through the state, authorities said.

The flooding came amid a string of thunderstorms that inundated the South and dumped nearly 3 inches of rain in parts of West Virginia. Thunderstorms were possible Friday from the Florida Panhandle to the North Carolina coast, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec said.

A woman called 911 saying her car was stuck in high water in the Fayette County town of Pax and she couldn’t find the baby. Sheriff Mike Fridley said in a statement Friday afternoon that the vehicle was found submerged with the 11-week-old boy inside.

Investigators determined the woman misjudged the water's depth and drove into the road until she realized it was too deep. She then attempted to remove the baby but the vehicle was swept away.

The area in which the vehicle was recovered had water as deep as 18 feet (5.5 meters). Visibility in the water was near zero due to muddy conditions, hampering the search. The incident remains under investigation, the statement said.

West Virginia, where towns located along narrow river valleys dot the landscape, is no stranger to devastating floods. In June 2016, 23 people were killed in flooding statewide.

“We cannot stress enough, the importance of not driving through flood waters,” Fridley said. “Water depth is very hard to judge, as well as it is hard to judge the speed of moving water.”

In Mingo County, along West Virginia’s border with Kentucky and Virginia, a mudslide knocked over a few train cars loaded with coal, the county emergency services office said.

The mudslide was caused by the failure of a sediment ditch berm at a coal mining operation run by Coal-Mac LLC, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Terry Fletcher said in an email.

The mudslide also uprooted one home and surrounded another with mud and water and at least one resident had to be assisted from their home. No injuries were reported and state police were investigating.

The DEP ordered the coal operator to find temporary housing for impacted residents, stabilize and repair the area around the slide and remove mud and debris from the homes, Fletcher said. Equipment has been brought to the site to begin remediation.

Officials called off school classes Friday in 10 counties in West Virginia. In Kanawha County, the state’s largest, school bus routes were changed or closed because of flooded roads. Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency Thursday as the storms rolled through.

In Lincoln County, floodwaters forced about 170 students from three different schools to hunker down Thursday night in an impromptu slumber party.

Schools in the county in the southern part of the state were dismissed two hours early on Thursday because of high water, which made many roads impassable. Parents who were able to drive to the schools were allowed to pick up their children, but many students were forced to stay put.

Community members, stores and churches donated cots, blankets, pillows and other supplies and staff members stayed on site to supervise the students, school officials said.

Photos on Lincoln County High School’s Facebook page showed students playing board games in the cafeteria at the school in Hamlin. They watched a movie and some tossed a football and played basketball in the gymnasium. Pizza, juice boxes and other donated foods were spread out across tables. A similar situation played out among students from two elementary-middle schools in the county.

After breakfast and lunch were served Friday, the floodwaters over roads still had not sufficiently receded, so school officials decided to make plans to serve dinner again. By Friday night, it was determined the water levels had fallen far enough to allow the students to leave.

“We just put our last students on buses to go home, so we’re waiting to get confirmation that we delivered all those students,” Lincoln County school Superintendent Jeffrey Kelley said by telephone Friday night. “We've got a bunch of great people who are committed to kids and doing the right thing. That makes these tough situations a lot easier.”

In Kansas City, Kansas, doctors at the University of Kansas issued a public caution after spending Thursday treating people who suffered broken wrists and concussions from falling after a freezing drizzle lasting eight to 10 hours coated pavement across the area with a thin glaze of ice.

Some parents had children in their arms when they tumbled, causing injuries to the youngsters, the hospital said in a news release.