The Kentucky floods were devastating. Timing is a key reason, expert says

A historic flood that beat Eastern Kentucky last week was so devastating because it flooded the area while people slept – and because the rates and locations of rainfall are hard to determine until the downpour hits, the climate scientist said. the state.

“The biggest danger with this flooding is that most of the rains happened very quickly, very heavily, and overnight,” said Megan Schargorodski, who is also director of the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University.

A couple pulls their belongings away from floodwaters
On Thursday, a couple carried belongings away from their home to save them from Kentucky River flooding in Jackson, Kentucky.Leandro Lozada/AFP via Getty Images

As of Monday, 37 people had died in the floods and “so many more” are still missing, Governor Andy Beshear said.

Let us pray for these families and come together to wrap our arms around our fellow Kentucky people,” he said.

The region’s geography contributed to the devastation, with the complex Appalachian terrain causing waterways and low-lying areas to flood quickly, Schargorodski said.

“Many roads are blocked due to flood waters and sometimes it can be more dangerous to evacuate,” she said.

Unlike mass evacuations that can occur days before a hurricane, she said, it’s less possible for people in eastern Kentucky to leave when they don’t know when and where flooding will occur.

Likewise, many in the region, with its rising poverty rates, are unable to flee even if they wanted to, she said.

Still, Schargorodski said forecasters correctly anticipated significant rainfall across much of the eastern part of the state ahead of the deluge.

Updated information has been posted on social media by the National Weather Service and by Kentucky Emergency Management officials, who used Twitter and Facebook. Kentucky Weather Services offices, along with state emergency officials, began warning of flooding beginning July 25 at the latest.

Susan Buchanan, spokeswoman for the National Weather Service, said in an email that her forecast had been expanded to include not only what the weather will do, but also its impact on people.

The agency provides briefings to local officials, and forecasters often integrate with emergency officials during weather events, Buchanan said.

“While we provide anticipated impacts, we do not provide guidance for decision-making,” she said.

Some of the hardest-hit counties weren’t used to communicating via social media, which could have left some residents without the latest information on the storm.

Kentucky Emergency Management Lists “county directors” for local emergency services and links to local sites for more targeted information. But in Knott County, where Gov. Andy Beshear said at least 15 people had died, the link leads to a page that “doesn’t exist.”

Its online presence includes a Canadian-registered .com business page that only has an address and phone number for “Emergency Management.” There are also third-party pages and sites, like the one hosted by countyoffice.orgwith some county and emergency information.

The agency’s phone number did not appear to be working on Monday, and a message sent to its Facebook page was not returned.

Efforts to reach the Knott County Sheriff’s Office also failed.

Falling Kentucky River water levels surround a truck
Falling water levels in the Kentucky River surround a truck in Jackson, Ky., on Saturday.Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Still, Missy Bush, a Knott County resident, said officials warned the community “by every means at their disposal.”

“They gave out warnings about this system and flooding, and lots of people were getting emergency alerts on their phones,” Bush, 40, said via Facebook Messenger.

“But due to the time of night it started and the speed at which the water rose, many people in areas that had never flooded before saw water and went picked up some stuff and left,” she said.

They returned to a vehicle that was half underwater, she said.

“I really don’t know of any other warnings that would have helped,” she added.

In neighboring Letcher County, Chloe Adams had no idea flood warnings had been issued over a wide swath of his condition.

Adams, 17, woke up at 5 a.m. Thursday to the sound of gurgling in her father’s double-wide trailer in Whitesburg and found dirty water bubbling up every drain.

The water was rising rapidly inside the trailer as Adams – who was home alone and whose father worked in Lexington – tried to come up with an escape plan with her dog, an 11-year-old pooch named Sandy that she had had for a decade.

“All I know is I only had two options here, we stay inside and drown or I try my luck swimming to safety,” she said in a statement. SMS to NBC News. “I knew the dangers of trying to swim in deep water, but I felt I had no choice.”

She placed the dog and a sofa cushion in a plastic drawer and dove into fast cold water, hoping to reach the roof of a nearby warehouse.

“Somehow, by the grace of God, Sandy and I made it through,” she said.

Chloe Adams sits on the roof of a warehouse
Chloe Adams sits on the roof of a warehouse with her dog Sandy as she waits to be rescued following a flood in Whitesburg, Kentucky.Terry Adams Sr via Facebook

They lay there for several hours waiting to be rescued, she said. Eventually, she says, her cousin arrived in a kayak and paddled the couple to safety.

Asked if authorities could have done more to alert her and others to the catastrophic flooding, she said she believed authorities had done their job “perfectly”.

“They did all their warnings and news bulletins, but I’m not watching the news and my phone was charging in another room when all the warnings went off,” she said. “Besides, I was sleeping. »

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