Catastrophic flash floods in the East Kentucky has now claimed 25 lives, with at least a dozen people missing, as officials in the Appalachian region try to calculate the cost of the worst natural disaster in decades.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he expected the state’s death toll to continue to rise and warned authorities still couldn’t reach some areas.
Beshear told CNN on Saturday there could be “significantly more” deaths due to devastating flooding in the eastern part of the state.
“It will get worse. And I think we will update it, maybe even for weeks to come… There are still so many people missing. And in this area, it will be a difficult task to obtain an accurate number of missing persons.
“We are still searching and rescuing what is an ongoing disaster,” he added, confirming the bodies of four young siblings were among those found after being carried away by their parents.
In Breathitt County, Coroner Hargis Epperson, Coroner, says the Lexington Herald-Leader that three bodies had been recovered in the last six or seven hours. “There could be more. We just don’t know,” he said. “There are areas that we still cannot access.
“It is difficult to explain the amount of water,” he added. “It flooded places where it never flooded.”
The New York Times reported that the dead included four young children from a family who first sought safety on the roof of their caravan, then a tree, before being swept away by rising waters.
The bodies of the children – eight-year-old Maddison Noble, six-year-old Riley Jr, four-year-old Nevaeh Noble and two-year-old Chance Noble – were found in Knott County on Friday. The children’s parents, who were also in the tree, survived the flood.
“The water rage took their children out of their hands,” Brittany Trejo, a cousin, told the newspaper.
Beshear also said it will likely take years for flood-affected communities to rebuild again, with the deluge coming less than a year since the southern part of the state was machine-gunned by powerful late season tornadoes who killed 70.
“I don’t want to lose another Kentuckian. We’ve lost way too many,” Beshear said, adding that the state “was going to be there to help them rebuild and we’re rebuilding, we’re rebuilding stronger.”
Joe Biden on Friday approved a disaster declaration to allow federal aid to flow to the state. But the scale and intensity of the rainfall that caused the flooding in the remote region has scientists alarmed.
Although the global climate crisis cannot be held directly responsible for most individual weather events, it makes the likelihood and frequency of catastrophic events much more common.
Bill Haneberg, a climate expert and state geologist, said the rain event is “extraordinary” for Kentucky. At least 33,000 people have no electricity and landslides have made roads impassable.
According to the US Geological Survey, Kentucky recorded 8 to 10 inches of precipitation over a 24-hour period. Beshear said even “the people who do it for a living, who have been doing it for 20 years, have never seen the water so high”.
The Kentucky floods came days after rainfall in the St Louis, Missouri area was hit by a foot of rain that killed two people and disrupted roads and neighborhoods.
Kentucky rivers are expected to peak this weekend, with more rain expected after a break in bad weather on Saturday. “More thunderstorms are expected on Sundayso unfortunately flash flooding will remain a concern through the weekend at least,” said AccuWeather’s senior meteorologist, Dan Pydynowski.