At least 16 people die in ‘epic’ Kentucky floods, including 6 children

July 29 (Reuters) – The death toll in eastern Kentucky rose to at least 16 on Friday as flooding triggered by “epic” torrential rains swept away homes, washed away roads and pushed rivers to their banks , state authorities said, warning that more deaths were expected.

Police and National Guard troops, including personnel from neighboring states, used helicopters and boats to rescue dozens of people from homes and vehicles in Kentucky’s Appalachian coalfield. Local media video showed floodwaters reaching the roofs of houses and turning roads into rivers.

“It’s not over. While we’re doing search and rescue, there are still real dangers out there,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a morning news conference.

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After a helicopter flight over the hardest-hit areas with Deanne Criswell, head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, Beshear said he was stunned by the scale of the flooding.

Most of Jackson, a town of 2,200 people about 100 miles southeast of Frankfurt, the state capital, was submerged, he said.

“Hundreds of homes, their ball diamonds, their parks, their businesses, under more water than I think any of us have ever seen in this area,” he told reporters. journalists. “Just devastating.”

The flooding marked the second major national disaster to hit Kentucky in seven months, following a tornado swarm that killed nearly 80 people in the western part of the state in December. Read more

Beshear said the number of confirmed flood-related deaths on Friday had risen from 15 to 16, including at least six children, and the death toll would almost certainly rise as floodwaters recede and search teams would find more bodies.

“There are still a lot of people missing,” he said, declining to quantify the number of missing. “We may update the number of people we have lost in the coming weeks.”

The flooding resulted from downpours of 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm) of rain that fell on the region in 24 hours, a deluge that could prove unprecedented in the region’s record books, said William Haneberg, professor of environmental science and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey.

“It’s a truly epic event,” Haneberg said.

The disaster came two weeks after rain-triggered flash floods inundated the Appalachian riverside community of Whitewood in southwestern Virginia near the Kentucky border.

The region’s steep slopes and narrow valleys make it prone to flooding, but the increasing frequency and severity of rain-induced flooding in the Appalachian region is symptomatic of human-induced climate change, Haneberg said.

The floods “are going to be more extreme and frequent, but it’s hard to predict how extreme and frequent they will be in the future,” he said in an interview.

“EVERYTHING IS GONE”

In Garrett, Ky., a mining town about 200 miles east of Lexington, brown floodwaters swirled down a commercial street and leaned against storefronts, video clips showed. Lifeboats ferried people wearing life jackets along the submerged street past the roofs of vehicles crossing the high water.

“It’s all gone,” Garrett resident Rachel Patton told WCHS-TV through tears. “We had to swim and it was cold. It was over my head. It was scary.”

At least 300 people in Kentucky have been rescued by emergency crews, Beshear said. That number is likely to climb, he said, given that more than 100 people alone have been rescued in National Guard airlifts.

Authorities went door to door Thursday in a low-lying area of ​​Jackson, evacuating people after inspectors noticed a discharge flowing from the nearby Panbowl Lake Dam.

“Late last night and early this morning, we thought a real breach was imminent,” Beshear said, adding officials were a bit more optimistic Friday morning.

As of Friday afternoon, some 22,000 homes and businesses in Kentucky and 2,200 in West Virginia were without power, according to Poweroutage.us. Widespread outages of natural gas service, water treatment and communications networks were also reported, the governor said.

Flood warnings and watches remained in effect throughout the day for the eastern half of Kentucky, as well as northeast Tennessee and western West Virginia, where more precipitation is expected to swell. waterways already well above flood stage, the National Weather Service said.

The North Fork Kentucky River in Jackson crested more than 14 feet (4 meters) above flood stage, a record high, early Friday, according to government monitors.

As much as a foot (30cm) of rain has fallen in parts of the region over the past week, according to the weather service.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Kentucky on Friday, allowing the allocation of federal funds to the state.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Thursday declared a state of emergency for six counties in his state, where heavy rains caused flooding that disrupted drinking water systems and blocked roads.

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Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Stephen Coates and William Mallard

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