National Guard-backed search and rescue teams on Friday searched for people missing in record flooding that wiped out entire communities in some of America’s poorest places.The governor said at least 16 people had died, a toll he expected to rise as the rain continued to fall.
Governor Andy Beshear said at least six children were among the victims.
“It’s tough,” the governor told reporters during a Friday afternoon briefing. “It’s even harder for these families and communities, so keep praying. There are still a lot of people, still a lot of people missing. We’re going to do our best to find them all.”
Beshear said earlier on Friday that the death toll “is going to get much higher.” He said later officials could update the death count “for the next few weeks.”
Powerful floodwaters engulfed towns that line creeks and creeks in Appalachian valleys and troughs, inundating homes and businesses, leaving vehicles in useless heaps and crushing runaway equipment and debris against bridges. Landslides stranded people on steep slopes and at least 33,000 customers were without power.
“We still have a lot of research to do,” said Jerry Stacy, director of emergency management in hard-hit Perry County, Kentucky. “We still have people missing.
Floodwaters rushed through the area so violently and quickly that residents, many of whom are still recovering from the last flood, barely had time to get out.
“I lost everything – twice,” Dennis Gross told CBS affiliate WKYT-TV. “I’ve lost everything twice, and I’m not the only one.”
Emergency crews performed nearly 50 air rescues and hundreds of water rescues Thursday, and more people still needed help, the governor said. “It’s not just an ongoing disaster, but an ongoing search and rescue. The water isn’t going to peak in some areas until tomorrow.”
It is difficult to determine the number of people missing with cell service and electricity in the disaster area, he said: “It is so widespread that it is even a challenge for local authorities to collect this number.”
More than 290 people sought refuge, Beshear said. He has deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest hit areas. Three parks set up shelters, and with such extensive property damage, the governor opened a online portal for donations to the victims. President Biden has called to express his support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Beshear said, predicting it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.
“This is the worst we’ve had in quite a while,” Friley told WKYT-TV, “It’s countywide again. There are several places that are still not accessible to crews. rescue.”
Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed away roads and bridges and knocked homes off their foundations. The City of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night, urging people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break in the rain”.
Mr. Biden too declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen counties in Kentucky, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has appointed an agent to coordinate recovery.
Beshear had planned to visit the disaster area on Friday, but postponed it because conditions at an airport where they planned to land were unsafe, his office said.
More rain on Friday plagued the region after days of torrential rain. The storm sent water gushing up hills and gushing out of stream beds, flooding roads and forcing rescue teams to use helicopters and boats to reach those trapped. Flooding also damaged parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia, in an area where poverty is rampant.
“There are hundreds of families who have lost everything,” Beshear said. “And a lot of those families didn’t have much to start with. And so that hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them.”
poweroutage.us reported that more than 33,000 customers were left without power Friday in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.
Rescue teams also worked in Virginia and West Virginia to reach people in places where roads were not passable. Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency for six West Virginia counties where flooding has downed trees, caused power outages and blocked roads. Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing Virginia to mobilize resources to flooded areas in southwestern Virginia.
“With more rainfall forecast over the next few days, we want to lean forward in providing as many resources as possible to help those affected,” Youngkin said in a statement.
The National Weather Service said another storm front adding misery to flood victims in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday could bring more thunderstorms to Appalachia, where flash flooding remained possible through Friday. evening at places in the area.
Brandon Bonds, a weather service meteorologist in Jackson, Kentucky, said some places may see more rain Friday afternoon and start drying out Saturday “before things pick up Sunday and next week.”
Hardest-hit areas in eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches over a 48-hour period ending Thursday, Bonds said. Some areas received more rain overnight, including Martin County, which was pounded with about 3 more inches, leading to a new flash flood warning on Friday.
The North Fork of the Kentucky River broke records in at least two places. A river gauge recorded 20.9 feet in Whitesburg, more than 6 feet above the previous record, and the river peaked at a record 43.47 feet in Jackson, Bonds said.
Krystal Holbrook had enough already on Thursday, as her family raced through the night to move vehicles, RVs, trailers and equipment as rapidly rising floodwaters threatened Jackson. “Higher ground gets a little hard” to find, she said.
In Whitesburg, Kentucky, floodwaters seeped into Appalshop, an arts and education center renowned for promoting and preserving the region’s history and culture.
“We are unsure of the full damage, as we were unable to safely enter the building or get too close to it,” said Meredith Scalos, its communications director. “We know that some of our archival material spilled from the building onto the streets of Whitesburg.”