At least eight people were confirmed dead Thursday after heavy rains caused massive flooding across eastern Kentucky, leaving people stranded on rooftops and others without power or water as forecasts call for even more rain.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he expects deaths to rise to double digits, calling it one of “the worst, most devastating flooding events” in state history. He said forecasted storms Thursday evening and into the weekend mean the impacts could worsen, potentially hindering both rescue efforts and work to restore power and water.
“This is an ongoing disaster that continues to put people in danger,” Beshear said Thursday evening. “Our death toll is growing, … and a lot of families out there have lost absolutely everything.”
Beshear declared a state of emergency for all of Kentucky, and the National Guard has been mobilized.
“We probably have not seen the worst of it,” Beshear said. “Sadly, we believe that we will lose Kentuckians and a lot of Kentuckians will probably lose most of what they have.”
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Kentucky counties impacted by flooding; fears of double-digit deaths
Gen. Hal Lamberton of the Kentucky National Guard said crews were working to rescue people stranded on the roofs of homes. Staff at a school were also stranded, he said.
More than 6 inches of rain fell overnight heading into Thursday morning, leaving streets underwater. Several inches were expected Friday and forecasters with the National Weather Service warned heavy rains and flooding could continue throughout the weekend.
Beshear advised people to stay somewhere safe, whether it is with family in a non-flooding area or at a hotel.
In Perry County, 20 people were unaccounted for early Thursday, said Deputy Sheriff Scott Sandlin. The region had been hit with major flooding, with several bridges and roads covered in water and other structures destroyed, he said.
An 81-year-old woman from Perry County was one of those who died in the flooding, Beshear said. Information on the seven others who perished was not immediately available.
“Guys, I don’t know how much more rain Buckhorn can handle,” Marlene Abner Stokely said in a video she posted on Facebook, showing how Squabble Creek overflowed and swamped a historic Kentucky church. “You can see it is pretty much taken over.”
In Breathitt County in eastern Kentucky, floodwaters covered roads and swamped homes and businesses. A volunteer fire department had to abandon its flooded-out station, authorities said.
The governor warned drivers against driving in the floodwaters. He said crews were investigating reports of a large truck with two people inside that may have been swept away.
“I don’t want to lose anybody else,” Beshear said.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell has spoken to Beshear and will be travelling to Kentucky Friday to survey flooding damage, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced Thursday.
“Our hearts go out to the people of the South, of South-Western Kentucky, which is experiencing considerable flash flooding that has taken the lives of multiple people,” said Jean-Pierre.
President Biden has been briefed on the situation, she said, and a FEMA incident management team has been dispatched.
Additional rain forecasted in Kentucky
Several residents and news organizations posted photos and videos on social media early Thursday that show water taking over the streets in Buckhorn, Breathitt and Perry counties. Chris Bailey, the chief meteorologist for WKYT, described it as “one of the worst flash flood events to ever hit the state.”
Dustin Jordan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said in the past two days, at least 6.82 inches of rain fell in Knott County, 7 inches in Perry County, and about 7 inches in Breathitt County.
At least 1 to 2 inches of rain was expected between Thursday night into Friday south of Interstate 64, he said. Flash floods were possible in some areas, forecasts show.
Meteorologists say rainy conditions are expected throughout the weekend and even into next week, possibly leading to more flooding.
Beshear said more than 25,000 homes and businesses were without power as of Thursday afternoon. A relief fund has been launched to assist those impacted.
Contributing: Associated Press