20 dead in West Virginia in state's worst floods in a century

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Hundreds Trapped in West Virginia Shopping Center

June 24 (Reuters) - At least 20 people in West Virginia have died in the U.S. state's worst flooding in more than a century, and hundreds more have been rescued from swamped homes, government officials said on Friday.

SEE ALSO: West Virginia floods: 4 dead, young boy missing as thousands left without power

The mountainous state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow.

"The damage is widespread and devastating," Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said at a news conference. "Our biggest challenge continues to be high waters."

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West Virginia flooding June 2016
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West Virginia flooding June 2016
Jimmy Scott gets a hug from Anna May Watson, left, as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. Scott lost his home to the flood and a fire that consumed his and the homes of several relatives. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Mark Lester, left, and a local firefighter look through the remnants of the home of Ron Scott which was torn off it's foundation and burned after severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Ron Scott, right, recovers a shirt from the burned remnants of his home that was swept off it's foundation and burned after from severe flooding hit in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Kelly Vaughan looks over flood damaged belongings in her fathers home as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. There were several fatalities around the state. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Isabel Vaughan, sorts through some of her grandfathers belongings as as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. There were several fatalities around the state. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Emergency crews take out boats on a flooded I-79 at the Clendenin Exit, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, June 24, 2016. West Virginia Department of Transportation/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Emergency crews take out boats on a flooded I-79 at the Clendenin Exit, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, June 24, 2016. West Virginia Department of Transportation/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
A damaged car is seen after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Elkview, West Virginia, June 24, 2016. West Virginia Department of Transportation/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
A White Sulphur Springs resident sorts through debris as the cleanup begins from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Lee Bland, of White Sulphur Springs, looks for belongings in the burned out home of a relative as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Mark Bowes, of White Sulphur Springs W. Va., makes his way to the road as he cleans up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Anna May Watson, right, hugs a relative as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
In this photo released by the The Weather Channel, a vehicle rests on the roof after flooding near White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. Multiple fatalities have been reported in flooding that has devastated parts of the state, a state official said Friday morning. The fatalities included at least one child and one adult. Justin Michaels/The Weather Channel via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT.
Mark Lester cleans out a box with creek water as he cleans up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The West Virginia State Highway 4 along the Elk River shows extensive damages after flood water has dropped in the Clendenin, West Virginia, U.S., June 25, 2016. hit by flooding. Courtesy West Virginia Department of Transportation/Handout via REUTERS 
High water is seen at Big Chimney, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, June 24, 2016. West Virginia Department of Transportation/Handout via Reuters 
Bridgeport W.Va. fireman, Ryan Moran, marks a flooded home as searched and empty as he and a crew search homes in Rainelle, W. Va., Saturday, June 25, 2016. Heavy rains that pummeled West Virginia left multiple people dead, and authorities said Saturday that an unknown number of people in the hardest-hit county remained unaccounted for. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
West Virginia Natural Resources police officer Chris Lester searches a flooded home in Rainelle, W. Va., Saturday, June 25, 2016. About 32,000 West Virginia homes and businesses remain without power Saturday after severe flooding hit the state. The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also said Saturday that more than 60 secondary roads in the state were closed.. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
West Virginia Natural Resources police officer Chris Lester, left, walks into the top floor of a flooded home as he and Lt. Dennis Feazell search homes in Rainelle, W. Va., Saturday, June 25, 2016. About 32,000 West Virginia homes and businesses remain without power Saturday after severe flooding hit the state. The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also said Saturday that more than 60 secondary roads in the state were closed. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
West Virginia State Trooper C.S. Hartman, left, and Bridgeport W.Va. fireman, Ryan Moran, wade through flooded streets as they search homes in Rainelle, W. Va., Saturday, June 25, 2016. Teams were rescuing people from second-story windows, the hoods of cars and the tops of trees as floodwaters drenched southeastern West Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
This Thursday June 23, 2016 image provided by the Greenbrier shows flooding on the 17th green of the Old White Course at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Severe flooding hit the area that is scheduled to host a PGA tour event in two weeks. (Cam Huffman/The Greenbrier via AP)
Ron Scott, right, recovers a shirt from the burned remnants of his home that was swept off it's foundation and burned after from severe flooding hit in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Rainelle W.Va. Mayor, Andrea Pendleton, right, talks to resident Nicholas Remick as she tours the flooded streets of Rainelle, W. Va., Saturday, June 25, 2016. Heavy rains that pummeled West Virginia left multiple people dead, and authorities said Saturday that an unknown number of people in the hardest-hit county remained unaccounted for. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Residents walk past an overturned car as the cleanup begins from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Mark Bowes, of White Sulphur Springs W. Va., makes his way to the road as he cleans up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Friday, June 24, 2016. A deluge of 9 inches of rain on parts of West Virginia destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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A spokeswoman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the state medical examiner had put the death toll at 20. The hardest-hit area was Greenbrier County in the southwestern part of the state, with 15 deaths, she said.

Multiple rivers have risen to dangerous heights, including the Elk River, which reached 32 feet, the highest since 1888, Tomblin said.

Government officials are focusing resources on rescuing those trapped or swept away by the flooding, he said, adding that some 66,000 residences are without power.

The governor declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and deployed 200 members of the West Virginia National Guard to help rescue efforts on Friday.

Though rivers were expected to crest by Friday night, the rescue and recovery effort is likely to last through the weekend, said Tim Rock, spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"There have been towns that have been completely surrounded by water," Rock said. "People say there is 8 to 9 feet of water in their house.

"It's at least into the hundreds forced to get emergency shelter," he said. "Even if you can get back into your home, who knows what kind of shape it's in."

West Virginia received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day, National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Pereira said. Rains eased on Friday with only scattered showers expected.

The storms that drenched West Virginia were part of a severe weather system that has swept through the U.S. Midwest, triggering tornadoes. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Laila Kearney in New York, and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)


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