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
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
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”