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12 rescued from Middle Fork River

AUDRA STATE PARK — A rapid rise in water levels led to 12 people being stranded in the Middle Fork River at Audra State Park on Friday. Belington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Phil Hart said it was the largest single water rescue event he has ever been a part of during his 40-year career.

“There was a total of 12 rescued, six in the (Audra State Park) campground and six below the bridge,” Hart said. “It was the largest water rescue I have ever been involved in.”

Hart said agencies from five different counties responded and pulled everyone to safety with no injuries. The initial call came in around 3:15 p.m. on Friday and police scanner traffic indicated that all individuals had been rescued by7:30 p.m. and everyone was accounted for.

Hart said the water rescue teams utilized boats and ropes to get to those who were stranded on the rocks. Hart said the youngest rescues were a 3-year-old and 4-year old.

He said the people stranded were spread over a two-mile stretch of the river. Hart said the six stuck near the campground were easier to rescue because they were able to drive the trucks closer to the river. He said the six stranded passed the bridge were more difficult to reach.

“We had to carry the equipment three quarters of mile down the trail,” he said. “It is very steep and rugged terrain.”

Hart said he spoke to all the folks rescued and campers at the park. He said they all described the same event as the water rose.

“The water was clear and normal,” he said. “I spoke with several people and all the stories were consistent. They heard a loud noise and saw the muddy water coming.”

Hart said the water rose four to four and half feet in a matter of minutes. Hart said in his nearly 40 years in fire service he has never dealt with a similar situation.

“I have heard of a situation years ago before I was in the fire service,” he said.

Hart said it was very fortunate there were no major injuries from the incident. He said folks in the campground were tossing ropes and other items to those who were trapped in the rising water to help get them to safety. He said one camper even used an extension cord to help another from the muddy water.

“We are very fortunate we did not have a loss of life out there,” he said. “It was a very rapid rise.”

With temperatures forecast to be in the high 80s and low 90s this week, Hart is urging anyone planning on taking to a river to swim to take extra precautions and to keep an eye on the weather.

“This rain happened early Friday morning in the mountains and it took that long to come down stream,” Hart said. “Always be aware of your surroundings.”

Fire departments from Philippi, Belington, Junior, Elkins, Buckhannon, Bridgeport, Grafton and Nutter Fort responded. Also at the scene were representatives from the Barbour County EMS, Belington EMS, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“It was a great team effort,” Hart said. “We had highly skilled volunteers and paid fire fighters out there. I am just glad no one was hurt.”

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