Fourteen people, including two boys aged 4 and 8, have been killed after severe thunderstorms have devastated West Virginia, authorities said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin revealed the death toll Friday after declaring a state of emergency in 44 of the state’s 55 counties, where damaging storms have left some areas inaccessible. Other people are unaccounted for, so the death toll could rise.
Storms began early Thursday, causing mudslides, rockslides and flooding, as well as property and infrastructure damage. Since then, nearly 65,000 customers had been left without power, FirstEnergy and Appalachian Power outage reports showed.
Kanawha County appeared to be hit the hardest, where about 11,200 people were left without power and roadways had been washed out or covered by high water, officials said.
At least three deaths occurred in the area, including an elderly man who was killed in floodwaters and a woman who was washed away in her vehicle in separate incidents, according to reports.
“We are still in the search and rescue mode,” an official said during a press conference on Friday.
There were 37 active water rescues in Kanawha County Thursday, while there had been more than 2,000 calls to 911 in the area, Kanawha County Emergency Management & Foodplain Management said.
“We’re very fortunate that the loss of life isn’t greater than it appears to be,” the official said.
In Ohio County, Emanual Williams, 8, was walking with his sister and mother down the middle of a creek when he slipped and was pulled under at about 3 p.m. Thursday, Wheeling Police Deputy Chief Martin Kimball told InsideEdition.com.
He was found drowned two hours and 45 minutes later. Emergency responders rushed him to a local hospital, but he could not be saved.
Loved ones took to social media to mourn the loss of the little boy.
“I just did the toughest thing I'll ever have to do,” his heartbroken father wrote on Facebook. “I had to tell my little girl her little brother Manny is gone to heaven.
“Hasn't sunk in yet,” he continued.
Kimball stressed that residents should exercise caution when around water, saying that even small ponds and creeks can prove deadly.
“Don’t play in water that you’re not familiar with. The water level was only about a foot or so,” he said. “You wouldn’t think walking through a foot or two of water [can be dangerous], but it is. If you slip and fall… water is a very powerful force of nature. It’s a tragedy that could have easily been prevented.”
Wheeling is one of a handful of areas that has been largely spared the devastation that heavy rains and winds have brought to most of the state, Kimball said.
A 4-year-old boy was also killed after being swept away as he played in his family’s backyard in Ravenswood in Jackson County at about 6:15 p.m. Thursday, authorities said.
Family members tried to pull the child to safety when he fell into swift water, but the its pull was too strong, the Ripley Fire Department said.
His body was found about 11:30 a.m. Friday downstream from where he had fell in, behind the old "Ponchos" Restaurant on Rt. 56, officials said.
About 85 first responders from at least 10 agencies gathered at the Ravenswood Fire Department at about 9 a.m. to resume their search for the toddler.
"Our thoughts and prayers for the families involved," the Ripley Fire Department said in a statement.
The National Weather Service reported a hazardous weather outlook for most of West Virginia, where large river flooding is expected to continue through at least Saturday morning.