The death toll in eastern Kentucky rose to 16, including two children, on Friday morning after torrential rains swept the region, destroying hundreds of homes and wiping out entire communities in several counties.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said the death toll is expected to grow to “probably more than double”.
“We may have even lost entire families,” Beshear said in a video early Friday.
Search and rescue teams, with the help of the National Guard, searched for missing people on Friday after record flooding swept through the region. The governor declared a state of emergency.
“To all the families who know that you have already suffered a loss, we are going to grieve with you,” Beshear said at a news conference Friday morning. “We are going to support you and we will be there for you not only today, but also tomorrow and in the weeks and years to come.”
More rain and storms were expected this weekend, after more than 15 centimeters of rain fell on Wednesday night on Thursday. Meteorologist Brandon Bonds of the National Weather Service in Jackson said it won’t take much more rain to “do any more damage.” A flood watch or warning was expected to remain in effect for many of the areas that have experienced the worst flooding.
Here’s what we know:
President Biden approves disaster declaration
President Joe Biden on Friday declared a major disaster in Kentucky and ordered federal aid to help the state recover in areas affected by the flooding. Federal funding will be made available to state, local governments and nonprofits for emergency protective measures in 13 counties, according to a statement from the White House.
Deanna Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the disaster statement will help cover the costs of overtime and recovery efforts that Kentucky communities currently face.
“FEMA has engaged additional search and rescue teams to support the tremendous efforts already underway on the ground,” Criswell said. “If additional resources are needed for these life-saving missions, we will continue to deploy those resources.”
Death toll rises to 16
In a news conference Friday morning, Beshear confirmed that 16 people had died, including at least two children and an 81-year-old woman.
The victims were in Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties, officials said.
Beshear said Friday morning that the state does not currently have a “reliable number” of missing people due to communication problems and unavailable cell services.
“It’s going to be very challenging in this area to get a good number,” Beshear said.
At least 337 people have sought shelter, Beshear said Friday morning. Crews rescued nearly 300 people by plane and boat.
“Basically, this event is devastating, and I truly believe it’s going to be one of the most significant deadly floods we’ve had in Kentucky in at least a very long time,” Beshear said Thursday.
While rain was reported in several areas around the state, the flooding occurred in eastern Kentucky, in counties near the Virginia and West Virginia borders. As of Friday morning, more than 23,000 Kentuck residents were without power and several counties had no access to water, Beshear said.
Cities reportedly hardest hit include Hazard, Jackson, Garrett, Salyersville, Booneville, Whitesburg and the rest of Perry County.
The stretch of the Kentucky River in Jackson reached its highest ever, at 43.2 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Jackson as of 6 a.m. Friday. That mark broke a record in 1939 when the height of the river reached 43.1 feet.
Beshear asked people who can contribute to donate items or funds. Donors should focus on water and cleaning products for the time being.
Organizations have started collecting money needed to send money to the families hardest hit by the floods.