Hours inland from the U.S. East Coast in mountain communities and narrow river valleys of Appalachia, angst is building with the approach of Hurricane Florence.
A series of thunderstorms pelted a wide swath of West Virginia two years ago. Nine inches of rain fell in 36 hours in some areas in June 2016, leaving 23 dead statewide and destroying thousands of homes, businesses and infrastructure.
Now comes the preparation for another prolonged rain event.
National Weather Service guidance says the currently projected scenario from Florence “could result in catastrophic flooding rainfall” across the mountains of western North Carolina, western Virginia and eastern West Virginia late this week.
“People are kind of paranoid right now,” Rainelle Police Chief J.P. Stevens said. “They have the right to be.”
Fifteen people died in Greenbrier County alone in 2016. The communities of Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs saw significant property damage, including at the posh Greenbrier resort.
Rainelle is surrounded by hills, the Meadow River and several tributaries. Some businesses damaged in the flood have yet to be torn down.
Stevens and other town officials are monitoring the hurricane’s track. The town is moving its vehicles to higher ground ahead of the storm. The Red Cross is mobilizing its services in the area, and the police department has purchased a bus in case evacuations are required.
“We’re going to be ahead of it this time around,” Stevens said.