1 year after deadly floods, West Virginia wary of vast storm

Tropical Depression Cindy spread drenching rains over the upper South on Friday, triggering flash flood warnings from the Mississippi valley into West Virginia, a state still recovering from deadly flooding one year ago.

Rain bands stretching for hundreds of miles (kilometers) are expected to push river and lake levels higher in coming days as what remains of an earlier tropical storm crosses Tennessee and Kentucky and takes aim at West Virginia. The severe weather front, which was blamed for earlier coastal flooding in the Deep South, tornadoes and one death, is rumbling closer to the densely populated East Coast.

National Weather Service officials in the three states said rainfall totals of 2-4 inches (50-100 millimeters) were possible, with isolated amounts up to 6 inches (150 millimeters) in some areas. Flash flood watches were in effect for much of Kentucky and West Virginia. Last June, torrential rains in West Virginia claimed 23 lives and memories are still vivid for many as recovery continues from that disaster.

“We should have a comfortable weekend coming up if we can just get through tonight and tomorrow,” said Greg Meffert, lead forecaster in the Paducah, Kentucky, office of the National Weather Service.

Crews in Memphis cleared storm drains in advance to help prevent street flooding before the storm arrived. Memphis Light Gas and Water reported that as many as 10,000 customers were without power Friday morning, but the number of outages dwindled later as electricity was restored. Local reports said blustery winds and heavy rain caused some traffic problems. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is staffing its operations center in Nashville until Saturday to coordinate any requests for assistance.

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With last year’s flood disaster still fresh on many minds, the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management held briefings for emergency managers statewide, spokesman Lawrence Messina said. And on Thursday afternoon, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a new law to coordinate the state’s flood mitigation and response efforts through a new state office.

As a slow-moving tropical storm that formed Tuesday in the Gulf, Cindy was blamed for one death. Nolan McCabe, 10, of St. Louis, Missouri, was vacationing with his family on the Alabama coast when he was hit by a log carried in on a large wave. Cindy also caused widespread coastal highway and street flooding and several short-lived tornadoes, but no other deaths.

A suspected tornado near Birmingham, Alabama, flattened businesses and injured one person Thursday, while the mayor of the coastal Louisiana town of Lafitte urged residents to evacuate ahead of a rising tide — two lingering effects of the weakening system that fueled harsh weather across the Southeast.

On Friday, forecasters were trying to verify exactly how many tornadoes touched down in Alabama during Cindy’s passage. The National Weather Service said an EF-2 twister with winds up to 120 mph (190 kph) struck just outside Birmingham on Thursday. Several businesses were damaged and at least four people were hurt. Forecasters also are checking damage elsewhere in central and southern Alabama to determine whether tornadoes struck there.

The Storm Prediction Center said severe weather remains a threat from the Southeast as far as western Pennsylvania as remnants of Cindy push northeastward.

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McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis; Michael Virtanen in Morgantown, West Virginia; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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