Gov. Andy Beshear pledged support from the state of Kentucky to secure housing for flood-affected residents and pay for funerals for more than two dozen victims ahead of heavy rains expected this week.
“The next few days are going to continue to be difficult, but I promise you life will get better,” Beshear said at a press conference on Sunday. “We’re going to stabilize everyone and in some form of housing, and we’ll clear the debris and move on.
As many as 37 people were missing, according to a daily briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
On top of that, more flash flooding was possible in parts of Appalachia on Sunday and Monday as the latest storms rolled in, the National Weather Service said. Rainfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour were possible in some of the same areas that were flooded last week.
A dozen shelters were open for flood victims in Kentucky with 388 occupants on Sunday, according to FEMA.
“Bodies for Weeks”
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” On Sunday morning, Beshear said he was experiencing “several additional bodies” and the death toll would continue to rise, with affected areas receiving between 8 and 10 1/2 inches of rain.
“With the water level we’re going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of them have swept hundreds of yards, maybe over a quarter of a mile from where they were lost. “, said Beshear.
In a YouTube video posted on Sundaythe governor said his aides were aware of “additional bodies that have been recovered” but could “not confirm these deaths at this time.”
At the press conference, Beshear said the region faces a “moderate risk of excessive rain” and some areas could experience flash flooding. Several counties remained under flood warnings and flood watches on Sunday and into the following days, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s really hurting the morale of people who have seen this amount of rain,” the governor said of the expected rain. “We hope, and we certainly do not believe for the region, [that] it will cause further massive flooding, but we have to be prepared,” he said.
Relief officials are struggling to reach hard-hit areas, some of which are among the poorest in the country.
At the press conference, the governor became emotional as he described how poor cell phone service and population undercounts made it difficult to determine the number of missing people.
“I wish we had a real, firm number of missing people,” he said.
The National Guard has performed more than 1,000 airlift rescues, Beshear said.
Amid complaints that hotels, motels and shelters in the area are full, Beshear told the press conference that the state government plans to work directly with hotels to fund rooms and that authorities were setting up a shelter at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park.
“Our commitment is that we’re going to get everyone back on their feet – every person, no matter how long it takes and no matter what it takes,” Beshear said at the press conference.
The governor urged people to donate new clothes and clean water, and to send money to the Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fundwho he says will pay for the funerals of the victims.
“People shouldn’t have to go through a repayment process that takes months when they’re grieving a loved one,” the governor said. “No forms, no requests, we will work directly with funeral homes.”
FEMA announced on Friday that President Biden issued a major disaster declaration, making federal aid available to the state.
On Saturday, Biden said he added individual assistance to that statement with the help of additional assistance to displaced families.
In addition, 80 FEMA workers are on the ground and the governor plans to request more, Perry County Executive Judge Scott Alexander said at the press conference.
“It’s not going to be an easy rebuild, but I’m here to tell you that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is going to support you every day until it’s completely rebuilt,” Beshear said.
“A long process”
In the small community of Wayland, Phillip Michael Caudill was working on Saturday cleaning up debris and salvaging what he could from the home he shares with his wife and three children. The waters had receded from the house but left a mess as well as questions about what he and his family would do next.
“We just hope we can get some help,” said Caudill, who is staying with her family at Jenny Wiley State Park in a vacant room, for now.
Caudill, a firefighter from the nearby community of Garrett, went out in rescue around 1 a.m. Thursday but had to ask to leave around 3 a.m. so he could return home, where the waters were rising rapidly.
“That’s what made it so difficult for me,” he said. “I’m there, sitting there, watching my house sink into the water and you have people crying out for help. And I couldn’t help it,” Caudill said.
The water was up to his knees when he got home, and he had to wade across the yard and carry two of his children to the car. He could barely close the door of his SUV as they drove off.
In Garrett on Saturday, flood-soaked sofas, tables and pillows were piled in yards along the foothills of the mountainous region as people worked to clear debris and shovel mud from walkways and roads under a sky now blue.
Hubert Thomas, 60, and his nephew Harvey, 37, fled to Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg after floodwaters destroyed their home in Pine Top late Wednesday night. The two were able to save their dog, CJ, but fear the damage to the home is beyond repair. Hubert Thomas, a retired coal miner, said all of his savings had been invested in his home.
“I have nothing now,” he said.
Harvey Thomas, a paramedic, said he fell asleep to the sound of light rain and his uncle wasted no time waking him up to warn him that the water was getting dangerously close to the house.
“It was going inside and it was only getting worse,” he said. “There was, at one point, we looked at the front door and mine and his cars were playing bumper cars, like bumper boats, in the middle of our front yard.”
As for what’s next, Harvey Thomas said he didn’t know, but was grateful to be alive.
“Mountaineers are strong,” he said. “And like I said, it won’t be tomorrow, probably not next month, but I think everyone will be fine. It will just be a long process.