A volunteer K-9 rescue team operating in southern Charlotte County recovered on Saturday the body of a woman who was swept away by a Thursday night flash flood caused by torrential rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Michael.
The recovery of the woman’s remains brings the death toll from the storm to six in Virginia. Four others died in floodwaters, including the woman’s son, and a Hanover County firefighter was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer as he and other firefighters tried to help with another crash on Interstate 295.
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller on Saturday said the body of Ruby S. Allen, 62, of Eureka, was located about 11:30 a.m. about a mile from where the vehicle in which she and two family members were riding when it became stranded in high water on a bridge on Mount Harmony Road in Charlotte.
She and her son, Ronnie Allen Jr., 36, also of Eureka, were swept away in the flash flood over the bridge. Neither survived. Ronnie Allen’s 17-year-old son was the third occupant of the vehicle and was rescued by Charlotte County Sheriff’s deputies, Geller said.
Authorities later recovered the body of Ronnie Allen, but his mother could not be found and was presumed dead, officials said.
“I want to commend the incredible number of volunteers who came out to assist with the search efforts for Ms. Allen today,” Charlotte County Administrator Dan Witt said in a statement. “We are thankful for the hard work and long hours put forth by our volunteer fire and EMS personnel, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.”
Also Saturday, Dominion Energy reported that as of 7:30 p.m. it had restored service to nearly 80 percent of the 600,000 customers who lost power.
It said about 87,854 customers remained without service in areas of central and southern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula. Michael’s high winds and rainfall caused the sixth-largest outage in Dominion Energy history, according to the company.
(This has been a breaking news update.)
Tropical Storm Michael swept across Virginia with surprising speed and fury, leaving at least five people dead and another missing in a flash flood caused by torrential rains.
The remnants of a hurricane that hit the Florida Panhandle with Category 4 winds, Michael spun off seven suspected tornadoes in Virginia as it sliced northeast through the middle of the state Thursday night and early Friday.
The storm carried wind gusts of more than 50 mph, dropped 3 to 7 inches of rain — more in places — and left nearly 600,000 Virginians without power.
It arrived less than a month after the remnants of Hurricane Florence touched off 10 tornadoes in Virginia — nine in the Richmond metropolitan area, where one man died after a tornado demolished the Chesterfield County warehouse where he was working.
“As we have seen each time these storms hit, these storms are unpredictable,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference Friday afternoon at the state emergency operations center in Chesterfield.
And it’s not over yet, even though the skies are now clear.
Richmond officials warned Friday that a flood warning will remain in effect until Sunday at 5 p.m., and the James River will be closed to recreation until water levels subside. The officials urged people attending the Richmond Folk Festival or other events close to the James to “exercise extreme caution while participating in weekend festivities.”
The city’s Department of Public Works announced Friday that it will collect storm debris from residents at their curbs.
Damage estimates won’t be available for a week to 10 days, according to Jeff Stern, director of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
The five confirmed fatalities from the storm include a Hanover County firefighter who was killed when a tractor-trailer ran into his firetruck on Interstate 295.
Four other Virginians drowned after their vehicles were caught in flash flooding — two in Danville, one in Pittsylvania County and one in Charlotte County.
State police and local law enforcement released these details of the five confirmed fatalities:
- Hanover Lt. Brad Clark, 43, of Mechanicsville died after a tractor-trailer rammed a Hanover firetruck that had stopped along I-295 on Thursday night to assist in a two-vehicle crash. Two other firefighters were taken to VCU Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, and a fourth was treated for minor injuries at the scene.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, Lester Labarge, 49, of California, Md., was hospitalized with serious injuries and charged with reckless driving and defective brakes, state police said.
- A man drowned and a woman remains missing after their vehicle was stranded in high water on a bridge on Mount Harmony Road in Charlotte shortly before 7:30 p.m. A 17-year-old and his father and grandmother were clinging to the bridge railings when local and state police arrived. The Charlotte Sheriff’s Office pulled the teen to safety, but the adults were swept away in floodwaters.
Authorities recovered the father’s body, but the grandmother had not been found and was presumed dead, officials said. Rescuers continued to look for her late Friday.
- James E. King Jr., 45, of Dry Fork drowned after being swept away from his vehicle about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Mount Hermon community in Pittsylvania.
A Pittsylvania sheriff’s deputy and local resident tried to rescue him but were unable to reach him. State police and local firefighters found his body downstream about 10:30 p.m.
- In Danville, 53-year-old William Lynn Tanksley was swept away from his vehicle by flash flooding near the 100 block of Colonial Court on Thursday afternoon. His body was to be taken to Roanoke for an autopsy.
A second fatality occurred in Danville on Goodyear Boulevard about 10:20 p.m. Police said the victim, 60-year-old Jennifer Bjarnesen Mitchell, was stranded inside a vehicle that was overrun with floodwaters.
At least seven tornadoes hit central and eastern Virginia during Tropical Storm Michael:
- James City County, an EF-1 in Norge and Toano;
- Middlesex County, an EF-0 near Jamaica;
- Gloucester County, an EF-0 near Pampa Road and another EF-0 near Cuba Road;
- New Kent County, an EF-0 at Colony Trail;
- Amelia County, an EF-0 at Jennings Lane; and
- Nottoway County: EF-0 at Burkeville. (The Nottoway tornado’s classification could change based on additional surveys.)
Anyone with additional information about any tornado damage can report it to the National Weather Service by sending an email to akq-report@noaa .gov or submitting a report at www.weather.gov/akq/reportWX.
The tropical storm’s rainfall generally ranged from 3 to 7 inches around central Virginia, with isolated areas in Charlotte, Caroline and Middlesex reporting more than 9 inches.
The rainfall prompted 30 separate flash flood warnings to be issued across the state, along with 12 tornado warnings.
The state of emergency declared by the governor on Thursday remains in effect, Northam said Friday.
“We still have flooding, downed trees, closed roads and a lot of debris,” he said.
The storm affected up to 1,500 roads across Virginia, prompting hundreds of emergency calls for traffic accidents and blocked roadways.
The Virginia National Guard sent eight soldiers and two rescue vehicles to the Danville area, where one of two emergency shelters opened for the storm held about 30 people. Additionally, 16 residents of adjacent Pittsylvania were housed in a hotel. The second emergency shelter, in the Salem area, held about 50 people.
Unlike with Hurricane Florence, which initially appeared headed for southeastern Virginia, the governor did not order emergency evacuation of residents for Tropical Storm Michael.
Northam said he ordered the evacuations of low-lying areas for Florence because of concerns about potentially catastrophic storm surge, while Michael stormed across the middle of the state with heavy rain and high winds.
“There was plenty of warning,” said the governor, reminding Virginians to never attempt to drive through high water and to adjust their driving to weather conditions.
Dominion Energy Virginia, the state’s largest electric utility, estimated that about 585,000 customers lost power at some point during the storm.
The company had restored power to more than 200,000 customers at the time of the governor’s news conference early Friday afternoon, but warned that restoration could take until late Monday. The Richmond-based company has deployed about 6,000 employees to restore electricity.
Dominion’s outage website showed 218,226 of the company’s 2.6 million customers were without power at 9:30 p.m. on Friday.
In the Richmond and Tri-Cities areas, Dominion had 70,563 customers without power. Chesterfield had the highest number of outages locally with 20,772. Richmond had 13,118, and Henrico County had 11,723.
The southeastern portion of the state had a higher number of outages with 89,102.
Dominion Senior Vice President Ed Baine said the company measured wind gusts as high as 75 mph, primarily from tailwinds as the storm moved northeast toward the Atlantic Ocean.
“There is significant damage — fallen trees, downed lines, blocked roads,” Baine said.