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West Virginia landslide forces residents to evacuate, area under flood watch

The National Weather Service said up to 2 inches of rain was possible this weekend on already saturated ground and has issued a flood watch in the area through Saturday evening.

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    A landslide is shown on Thursday, March 12, 2015 near Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va. The landslide broke loose, taking out power lines, trees, an unoccupied home, as well as a church. It also caused a nearby creek to rise. No injuries were reported and no flights at the airport were affected.
    Lt. Col. John 'Todd' Harrell/West Virginia National Guard/AP
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Authorities were concerned Friday that heavy rains could worsen a landslide next to a West Virginia hilltop airport that already has forced residents out of a few dozen homes in Charleston.

The National Weather Service said up to 2 inches of rain was possible this weekend on already saturated ground and has issued a flood watch in the area through Saturday evening.

"On top of this wet soil and everything else, it's a big concern for us," said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County's emergency services deputy director.

The landslide began Sunday near the end of the main runway at Yeager Airport and broke loose Thursday, taking out power lines, trees, an unoccupied home, and a church. It also caused a nearby creek to rise, and crews worked Friday to remove debris from the creek.

No injuries were reported, and no flights at the airport were affected.

Buck Sutton lives 500 feet from the church and was forced out of his home along with his wife and mother.

"We didn't know nothing until ... the hill started falling," Sutton said. "If we had known the day before, we could have started getting stuff out. We were trying to hurry up and get everything."

The landslide occurred on a man-made emergency overrun area at the end of an extended part of the runway where the hilltop drops off. The area was built about eight years ago on top of an engineered fill of about 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt.

The West Virginia National Guard urged residents to evacuate area homes, and the West Virginia Division of Highways closed a portion of Keystone Drive.

Sigman said residents were expected to be out of their homes for at least a few days. Some were staying at area hotels.

Airport spokesman Brian Belcher said an engineering firm is working on plans to repair the hillside but must wait until the ground settles.

Residents not in the direct line of the landslide dealt with the possibility of water coming downstream into their homes in the flood plain once the creek was flowing again and the rains hit.

Clarence Fleck lost a furnace in a flood a decade ago and was concerned he'd lose a boat, a recreational vehicle and another furnace in his home this time.

"These houses were built in the wrong place," Fleck said.

Crews also worked to restore a small natural gas line that ruptured in the landslide. The gas supply was shut off to about 30 customers.

The landslide occurred not far from the site of a January 2014 chemical spill at Freedom Industries into the nearby Elk River that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents in nine counties for days.

Residents also deal with planes taking off overhead and blasting from another hilltop airport construction project.

"We've been here forever," said Thomas Davis, who lives at the foot of the hill with his mother, sister and brother. "Everyone who lives in this area is all family. We're used to it. It floods here a lot."

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