Storms, floods cause 1 death, knock down tombstones at West Virginia cemetery

Flooding following severe thunderstorms caused a mudslide at the Wheeling Mt. Zion Cemetery in Wheeling, WVa., Thursday, April 4, 2024. The slide toppled trees and gravestones. Volunteers who care for the cemetery said the topsoil and monuments were damaged, but the caskets were not. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Storms and flooding in West Virginia have caused at least one death and washed out about 200 tombstones at a cemetery where graves date back to the early 1800’s, officials said.

Valerie Ann Swisher, 49, died when the vehicle she was driving got stuck in high water and sank, trapping her inside, the Wood County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on social media Thursday evening. Divers found the vehicle, and Swisher was pronounced dead at the scene.

The death occurred on the same day that Gov. Jim Justice issued a state of emergency for Wood, Ohio and five other counties due to flooding following severe thunderstorms that also caused downed trees, power outages, road blockages and other damage including a land slide at the Wheeling Mt. Zion cemetery.

The slide at the Ohio County cemetery, where thousands of people are buried including 400 veterans, toppled trees and gravestones, news outlets reported.

Barbara Stephens visited the cemetery to check on the graves of her grandparents, but the mudslide prevented her from getting to the section where she believes they are buried.

“I just decided I’m going to come look at it,” Stephens said. “As soon as I got here, I just started crying.”

Volunteers that care for the cemetery said the topsoil and monuments were damaged, but the caskets were not.

“I think the graves are OK, I think the mud just came down and slid over the top of the grass, said Charles Yocke, president of the Wheeling Mt. Zion Cemetery Corporation.

He said the organization is seeking help to recover from the disaster.