In mid-February West Virginia experienced a very heavy rainstorm that raised streams throughout the state to near-record levels. On February 18th, as the Kanawha River near South Charleston was reaching flood levels, a gas station employee called her supervisor to report that the river was creeping up towards their store. The manager, knowing the business did not carry flood insurance, told her to call other employees to the scene. Then he, along with the other employees, attempted to save the inventory. They filled each person’s car with beer and cigarettes, and drove the vehicles to higher ground. Afterwards, they returned to put the remaining inventory on high shelves and counters. The employees were scared and wanted to leave, but were ordered to stay. Soon the flood waters rose into the store, cutting off their escape.
The group called 911 at 6:45 p.m., and the Charleston Fire Department responded with a small motorized raft. Two firefighters and five gas station employees were loaded into this boat. None of the store employees were given life vests even though two of them could not swim at all. The boat itself may have been overloaded, and the firefighters had little training in swift-water boat handling. As they headed for safety, the raft was pulled into nearby Kanawha-Two Mile Creek where it capsized. The two firefighters and two victims were recovered quickly, but Sue Kannaird, 54, Howard Fout, 52, and Betty Huffman, 56 were swept away. In the next three days, their bodies were found where they had washed downstream. Mrs. Huffman was found on the Ohio River, 150 miles away. On the day following the accident a local Junior High School student climbed 30 feet up a tree and found a purse that contained $6,000 and the manager’s I.D. The money was later returned to the store owners.