West Virginia Floods Cause Barge Breakaways

The Waterways Journal
4 July 2016
By David Murray

Torrential rains causing some of the worst flooding in West Virginia’s history have created a crisis in the state, causing barge breakaways on the Kanawha River along with at least 23 reported deaths and dramatic video footage of a burning house being swept down one swollen creek.

But compared to the shoreside effects, the flood’s impacts on Kanawha River traffic itself were comparatively minor.

The heavy rains on June 24 were caused by what the National Weather Service called a “derecho” weather system, a series of long-lived storms with heavy rainfall that also spawned at least eight tornadoes. In some parts of the state, 10 inches fell in less than 24 hours.

The floods prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency the next day to clear the way for federal support.

Forty-four counties in West Virginia’s southeast were in a state of emergency. Tomblin’s office said that portions of Greenbrier and Nicholas counties “have been rendered inaccessible because of public infrastructure damage.” The town of Clendenin was flooded and accessible only by helicopter.

On the swollen Kanawha River, four barges, a crane barge and a small towboat belonging to Crounse Corporation broke loose from Mulzer’s dock June 24 and some struck the Dunbar Toll Bridge and the St. Albans-Nitro Bridge. The stray barges were quickly recovered and the bridges were reopened later that day with no damage.

Alan Hall, vice president of operations for Amherst Madison, told The Waterways Journal that a few barges broke loose at the company’s facility in Charleston, but were quickly rounded up. Amherst Madison, the major towing operator on the Kanawha, voluntarily halted all river traffic.

“The Elk River, that flows into the Kanawha at Charleston, experienced its worst flooding since 1888,” Hall said. “Luckily we have three dams, the Summersville, Sutton and Bluestone, that can hold 30 or 40 feet of water. Those dams did controlled releases after the rain stopped.”

“Historically, the Kanawha rises quickly and falls quickly,” said Hall.

Amherst Madison resumed river traffic the following Sunday, June 26. “We dodged a bullet on this one,” was Hall’s final verdict. “It’s very fortunate that more people weren’t hurt”