Search and rescue teams backed by the National Guard have searched for people missing in record floods that have wiped out entire communities in some of the poorest places in America, with Kentucky’s Governor expecting the death toll of 16 to continue to grow.
- Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says 16 people have been killed across four counties, including children
- At least 33,000 customers were without power and 330 people had sought emergency shelter
- Emergency crews have conducted dozens of air rescues and hundreds of water rescues, with more people still needing help
Governor Andy Beshear told said children were among the victims, and that the death toll could more than double as rescue teams search the disaster-hit area.
“The tough news is 16 confirmed fatalities now, and folks that’s going to get a lot higher,” the Governor said later at a briefing. He said the deaths were in four eastern Kentucky counties.
Powerful floodwaters swallowed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys and hollows, swamping homes and businesses, trashing vehicles and crunching runaway equipment and debris against bridges.
Mudslides marooned people on steep slopes and at least 33,000 customers were without power.
Numerous state roads were blocked by high water or mud, and crews were “unable to even get to some of these roadways it is so bad”, Mr Beshear said.
Jerry Stacy, the emergency management director in Kentucky’s hard-hit Perry County, said there were still people missing.
“We’ve still got a lot of searching to do.”
Emergency crews made dozens of air rescues and hundreds of water rescues, with more people still needing help, Mr Beshear said.
“This is not only an ongoing disaster but an ongoing search and rescue. The water is not going to crest in some areas until tomorrow,” he said.
People trapped in homes
Rachel Patton said floodwaters filled her Floyd County home so quickly that her mother, who was on oxygen, had to be evacuated on a door that was floated across the high water. Ms Patton’s voice faltered as she described their harrowing escape.
“We had to swim out and it was cold. It was over my head so it was, it was scary,” she told WCHS TV.
The water was so swift that some people trapped in their homes could not be reached on Thursday, Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams said.
Just to the west in Perry County, some people remained unaccounted-for and almost everyone in the area had suffered some sort of damage, firefighter Glenn Caudil said.
“Probably 95 per cent of the people in this area lost everything — houses, cars, animals. It’s heartbreaking,” Mr Caudil told WCHS.
Determining the number of people missing is tough with mobile phone service and electricity out across the disaster area, he said.
“This is so widespread, it’s a challenge on even local officials to put that number together.”
National Guard deployed to disaster areas
More than 330 people have sought shelter, Mr Beshear said. He deployed National Guard members to the hardest-hit areas.
With property damage so extensive, the governor opened an online portal for donations to the victims.
President Joe Biden called to express his support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Mr Beshear said, predicting it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.
Mr Biden also declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appointed an officer to coordinate the recovery.
Mr Beshear had planned to tour the disaster area on Friday, but had to postpone because of unsafe conditions at the airport where they had planned to land, his office said. The governor flew over affected regions later in the day.
Virginia and Western Virginia also affected
Flooding also damaged parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia, across a region where poverty is endemic.
“There are hundreds of families that have lost everything,” Mr Beshear said.
“And many of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so it hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them.”
Mr Beshear said portions of at least 28 state roads in Kentucky are blocked due to flooding or mudslides. Rescue crews also worked in Virginia and West Virginia to reach people in places where roads weren’t passable.
Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia where the flooding downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.
Governor Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaration, enabling Virginia to mobilise resources across flooded areas of south-west Virginia.
“With more rainfall forecasted over the next few days, we want to lean forward in providing as many resources possible to assist those affected,” Mr Youngkin said in a statement.