Recovery efforts continue in Kentucky in wake of ‘devastating and deadly’ floods
Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed the death toll remained at 37 Tuesday, but now eastern Kentucky faces a new challenge days after floodwaters ripped through rural communities.
Powerful storms stalled over Appalachia from July 27-28, with rivers still rising on July 29. At least 16 people were killed, and hundreds forced to flee from their homes.
Four days after historic flooding devastated towns across eastern Kentucky, the death toll continued to rise. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed that the number of fatalities had climbed to 37 on Monday as rescue and recovery operations persisted.
Complicating matters were more rounds of rainfall. Heavy rain prompted flash flood warnings across numerous eastern Kentucky counties and hampered rescue efforts on Sunday and Monday.
“The loss is unimaginable,” Beshear wrote on Twitter. “Please, continue to pray for Eastern Kentucky.”
In a press conference on Tuesday morning, Beshear said this is one of the “most devastating and deadly” floods he’s experienced in his lifetime.
“One of the reasons this one was so deadly was because it did flood overnight,” Beshear said. “People [were] asleep and by the time they woke up, they were already in a very dangerous situation.”
Among the flood victims were four siblings, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old. According to their cousin, Brittany Trego, the search for the four small children began on Thursday, and by Friday morning, Trego confirmed the worst on a Facebook post. All four of the siblings had drowned, but their parents, Riley Noble and Amber Smith, had survived the tragedy, NBC News reported.
Many still remain missing days after floodwaters swept homes away in the middle of the night in eastern Kentucky.
“The water was rising so fast we didn’t have time to think or even move. It was just devastation,” Kentucky resident Angela Combs told AccuWeather National Reporter Kim Leoffler.
As community members came together on Monday to figure out how to move forward from this disaster, Combs told Leoffler that “it’s going to take people a long time to get over this devastation. It’s going to take a while. Everyone is traumatized.”
One Kentucky mom shared her harrowing account of the flooding on CNN's Newsroom on Monday. The woman, Jessica Willett, said she tied herself to her two children, 11 and 3 years old, using a vacuum cord to try and save them as water was rushing into their home shortly before midnight Wednesday night.
“The first thing that went through my mind is that I didn’t know if we would be swept away or not,” Willett told CNN Newsroom. The house was ripped from its foundation and carried down the road as a result of the deadly flooding. The family has since set up a GoFundMe account to help with rebuilding costs. More than $46,000 had been raised as of Monday night.
According to a daily briefing from Beshear, about 430 people are staying in 11 emergency shelters that are active across Kentucky, and almost 200 people are being sheltered at Kentucky State parks. On Tuesday, Beshear announced the opening of eight cooling centers, as extreme heat has become a concern this week, particularly for those without power and other vulnerable parties.
Beshear confirmed Tuesday that over 1,300 rescues have been made since Thursday. He warned it was still an active situation as search and rescues operations continued.
Search and rescue operations were aided by airmen from Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, who rescued 19 stranded individuals and two dogs within the flooding aftermath.
On Friday, President Joe Biden approved the Kentucky disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms.
"Homes are washed away, communities are washed away, roads are washed away," Breathitt County judge executive Jeffery Noble told The New York Times. "I've heard of hundred-year floods, but this is way beyond that. In the history of Kentucky, our community has never seen anything like this."
Pat Bradley, a Hindman resident, told Leoffler that as she stepped out of her home Wednesday, the water had already risen to her knees. Bradley's son rushed to get her out of her home that night, and Bradley added the water rose so quickly that they might not have been able to drive out if they had waited any longer.
"We watched the water rise more, go around the house and in," Bradley said. "It was in the house, two feet on the door."
To aid in the disaster response, the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund set up by the state has raised over $684,000 as of Saturday afternoon, with over 5,600 donations. The first expenditure of the funds raised will go to families who are experiencing funeral costs for lost loved ones.
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The extreme flooding in the eastern part of the state comes less than a year after parts of western Kentucky were slammed by a historic tornado outbreak that ravaged multiple cities this past December.
As of Monday morning, power outages remained a concern, with over 12,500 customers without power throughout the state, according to PowerOutage.US.
Water outages continued days after the disastrous flooding unfolded. Beshear said during a Saturday press update that 18 tractor-trailer truckloads of water were en route to Kentucky as part of a FEMA response. The return of hotter conditions this week is putting added stress on the need to replenish water resources, he said.
Over the next few days, extreme heat will be the main concern. Temperatures across eastern Kentucky are expected to reach the upper 80s. On Wednesday, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures will likely surpass the century mark in Hindman and Hazard, Kentucky, which were two of the hardest-hit towns. Without power or reliable drinking water, the high temperatures will threaten to cause heat-related illnesses.
Beshear announced on Tuesday that eight cooling centers will open in eastern Kentucky.
“Don’t be too proud to go to one of these places. It’s going to be really hot and really dangerous,” the governor said.
Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Kim Leoffler.
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