LOST CREEK, Ky. (AP) — President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden witnessed damage Monday from deadly and devastating storms that caused the worst flooding in Kentucky’s history as they visited the state to meet with families and first responders.
At least 37 people have died since last month’s deluge, which dropped 8 to 10-1/2 inches of rain in just 48 hours. Governor Andy Beshear told Biden authorities expected to add at least one more death to the total. The National Weather Service said Sunday that flooding remains a threatwarning of more thunderstorms through Thursday.
The president said the nation has an obligation to help all of its residents, saying the federal government will provide support until residents are back on their feet. Behind him, as he spoke, was a two-story house that the storm had dislodged and then left strewn on the ground, tilted on its side.
“We have the ability to do it — it’s not like it’s out of our control,” Biden said. “We are staying until everyone is back where they were.”
In the heat and humidity of summer, Biden’s button-down shirt was covered in sweat. Pacing with a microphone in hand, he avoided formal remarks by pledging to return once the community was rebuilt.
“The bad news for you is that I’m coming back, because I want to see it,” the president said.
The Bidens were warmly greeted by Beshear and his wife, Britainy, upon their arrival in eastern Kentucky. They immediately drove to see the devastation of the storms in Breathitt County, stopping at the site where a school bus, carried by floodwaters, crashed into a partially collapsed building.
Beshear said the flooding was “unlike anything we’ve ever seen” in the state and credited Biden with quickly approving federal aid.
He praised the responders who “moved heaven and earth to get to where we are, what, about nine days after this hit,” he said.
Attending a flood impact briefing with first responders and recovery specialists at Marie Roberts Elementary School in Lost Creek, Biden told a delegation of Kentucky leaders he would do whatever was necessary to to help.
“I promise you if it’s legal, we will do it,” he said. “And if it’s not legal, we’ll figure out how to change the law.”
The president stressed that politics has no place in disaster response, noting his frequent political battles with Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We fight over issues all the time,” Biden said, but in helping the Kentuckians rebuild, “we’re all one team.”
Monday’s trip is Biden’s second to the state since taking office last year. He had already visited in December after tornadoes swept through Kentucky, killing 77 people and leaving a trail of destruction.
“I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky,” Beshear said recently. “I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to be affected and lose everything. I can’t tell you why, but I know what we are doing in response “And the answer is all we can. These are our people. Let’s make sure we help them.”
Biden extended federal disaster assistance to Kentucky, guaranteeing the federal government will cover the full cost of debris removal and other emergency measures.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided more than $3.1 million in relief funds and hundreds of emergency responders had been deployed to to help.
“The Kentucky floods and extreme weather across the country are yet another reminder of the intensifying and accelerating effects of climate change and the urgent need to invest in making our communities more resilient,” said she declared.
The flooding came just a month after the Kentucky governor visited Mayfield to celebrate the completion of the first fully built homes since a tornado nearly wiped out the town. Three families received the keys to their new homes that day, and the governor, in his remarks, recalled a visit he made immediately afterwards.
Today, other disasters are testing the state. Beshear has traveled to eastern Kentucky as many times as weather permitted since the floods began. He had daily press conferences that lasted an hour to provide details and a full range of victim assistance.
A Democrat, Beshear narrowly beat an incumbent Republican in 2019, and he is seeking a second term in 2023.
Polls have consistently shown him with strong approval ratings from Kentuckians. But several prominent Republicans have entered the race for governor, taking turns hammering the governor for his aggressive response to the pandemic and trying to tie him to Biden and rising inflation.
Beshear frequently comments on the consequences of soaring inflation weighing on Kentuckians’ budgets. He avoided blaming the president, instead pointing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply chain bottlenecks as contributors to rising consumer costs.
Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky and Megerian reported from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.