Kentucky flood death toll hits 25, set to rise
At least 25 people died — including four children — when torrential rains flooded Appalachian towns, the Kentucky governor said Saturday.
Governor Andy Beshear said the death toll would likely rise significantly and it could take weeks to find all the victims of the record flash floods.
« It’s an ongoing natural disaster, » Beshear told Fox News. « We are still in search and rescue mode. Thankfully the rain has stopped. But it will rain more from Sunday afternoon. »
Rescue teams continue to struggle to get into hard-hit areas, some of which are among the poorest places in America. Crews performed more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats, the governor said.
« Total Devastation »
Beshear, who flew over parts of the flooded area on Friday, described it as « just utter devastation, the likes of which we’ve never seen ».
“We are engaged in a full reconstruction effort to get these people back on their feet,” he said. « But for now, we’re just praying that we don’t lose anyone else. »
The rain stopped early Friday after parts of eastern Kentucky received between eight and 10½ inches (20 to 27 centimeters) in 48 hours. But some waterways were not expected to peak until Saturday.
A firefighter quit rescue efforts to save his own children
In the small community of Wayland, Phillip Michael Caudill was working on Saturday cleaning up debris and salvaging what he can from the home he shares with his wife and three children.
The waters had receded from the house but left a mess with questions about what he and his family would do next.
« We just hope we can get some help, » said Caudill, who is staying with her family at Jenny Wiley State Park in a vacant room, for now.
Caudill, a firefighter from the Garrett community, went out in rescue around 1 a.m. Thursday but had to ask to leave around 3 a.m. so he could return home, where the waters were rising rapidly.
« That’s what made it so difficult for me, » he said. « Here I’m sitting there watching my house get submerged in water and you have people crying out for help. And I couldn’t help, » he said, as he had to deal with of his own family.
The water was up to his knees when he got home and he had to wade across the yard to carry two of his children to the car. He could barely close the door of his SUV as they drove off.
« They lost everything »
Patricia Colombo, 63, of Hazard, Ky., became stranded when her car stalled in floodwaters on a state highway. Colombo started to panic when the water started pouring in.
Although her phone was dead, she saw a helicopter overhead and waved it down. The helicopter crew radioed to a ground crew who rescued them from danger.
Colombo spent the night at her fiancé’s house in Jackson and they took turns sleeping, repeatedly checking the water with flashlights to see if it was rising. Although his car was a loss, Colombo said others had had it worse in an area where poverty is endemic.
« A lot of these people can’t recover here. They have houses half under water, they lost everything, » she said.
It’s the latest in a series of catastrophic deluges that hit parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis, Mo., earlier this week and again on Friday.
As rains battered Appalachia this week, water rushed down hills and into valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and creeks flowing through small towns. The torrent engulfed homes and businesses and ransacked vehicles. Landslides have trapped some people on steep slopes.
US President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen counties in Kentucky.
Other states have also hit hard
Floodwaters raging through Appalachia were so swift that some people trapped in their homes could not be immediately reached, Floyd County Executive Judge Robbie Williams said.
Just west, in hard-hit Perry County, authorities said some people were still missing and nearly everyone in the area sustained damage.
“We still have a lot of research to do,” said County Emergency Management Director Jerry Stacy.
Portions of at least 28 Kentucky state highways were blocked due to flooding or landslides and about 18,000 utility customers across the state were left without power early Saturday, poweroutage.us reported.
The flooding extended west to Virginia and south to West Virginia. Rescue teams in these states worked to reach people where roads were not passable.
Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency for six West Virginia counties where flooding has downed trees, knocked out power and blocked roads.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing officials to mobilize resources in the state’s flooded southwest.
Warmer air holds more water vapor
Weather disasters such as extreme rainfall are becoming more common as climate change rattles the planet and alters weather patterns, scientists warn.
« It’s a battle of extremes unfolding right now in the United States, » said Jason Furtado, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma.
« These are things we expect because of climate change…a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and that means you can produce more heavy precipitation. »