At least 23 dead as West Virginia is hit by devastating flooding

More bodies expected to be discovered as rescue teams search through rubble

west virginia, flooding

Spectators look over the remnants of a home as the cleanup begins from severe flooding in West Virginia | Photo: PA Images

At least 23 people have been killed in the US state of West Virginia after extreme flooding destroyed homes, downed power lines and triggering mudslides. 

Among the youngest dead is a four-year-old boy, who was swept away after slipping and falling into rushing waters, a fire official told the AP news agency.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency in 44 of the state's 55 counties on Thursday. 

The unrelenting rain was described by the National Weather Service as a "one-in-a-thousand-year event". Between eight to 10 inches of rain fell in six to eight hours in some areas, according to the forecaster.

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said the flooding was "among the worst in a century for some parts of the state".

Emergency services and 200 members of the National Guard have been deployed to lead rescue efforts, while helicopters conduct search operations in the worst-hit communities.