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VA rescuers rolled into flooded WV town just in time

Charleston Gazette-Mail courtesy photo Members of Bristol Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue team get a rest on their raft after spending 17 hours rescuing people who were trapped in their homes by flooding in Rainelle. The team members traveled nearly three hours from the border of Virginia and Tennessee and saved 44 people in the small Greenbrier County town.
Charleston Gazette-Mail courtesy photo
Members of Bristol Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue team get a rest on their raft after spending 17 hours rescuing people who were trapped in their homes by flooding in Rainelle. The team members traveled nearly three hours from the border of Virginia and Tennessee and saved 44 people in the small Greenbrier County town.

RAINELLE, W.Va. — Donald Farley, leader of the Bristol Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue team, had barely made it into Rainelle when he ran out of road.

Little Sewell Creek had already enveloped the small town in Greenbrier County with four to eight feet of muddy, turbulent water, leaving the few local emergency officials that were available nearly helpless.

When Farley and the other eight members of the special-response team parked their Chevy Suburban, heavily loaded trailer and full-size rescue truck next to the Hardee’s, one police officer and a couple of ambulance crews were looking out over the rushing water toward what used to be downtown Rainelle.

In minutes, the nine highly trained professional firefighters from the border of Virginia and Tennessee were in action. They established a headquarters inside the fast-food restaurant. They pulled on their protective suits and helmets, unloaded the two rubber rafts from their trailer and split into teams of three.

 Their red and gray boats hit the water about 1:22 a.m. Friday. With nothing but small headlamps to light their way through the pitch-black night, they didn’t know what to expect. None of them had ever been to Rainelle. — nearly 200 miles away from their own homes. The maps they had weren’t waterproof, and they were floating over street signs that could have helped guide their way…

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