Rescue workers pulled people from rooftops amid rapidly rising water Thursday in central Appalachia, where torrential rains triggered some of the worst flooding in state history. taking at least eight life in his step and leaving several people missing, according to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
“Tonight we need your continued prayers for the people of Eastern Kentucky,” Beshear said in an update Thursday evening. “This is an ongoing natural disaster, with more rain expected tonight that could worsen the situation. The death toll has heartbreakingly risen to 8 Kentuckians lost.”
An emergency official in hard-hit eastern Kentucky described the situation as “catastrophic” as water rescue teams searched for stranded people.
Beshear said hundreds of properties could be destroyed and called the flooding “historic and ongoing.” At least 20 to 30 people have already been airlifted to safety, according to Beshear, but he said there are others in need that officials believe will be harder to reach.
“What we’re going to see as a result of this is massive property damage,” Beshear said during a briefing Thursday. “We expect loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes and this will be another event that will take not months, but probably years for many families to rebuild and recover.”
During the briefingBeshear said “we expect double-digit deaths” and asked for help picking up specific items for residents.
“What people will need is water and cleaning supplies,” he said. “Those will be the main two.”
Ryan C. Hermens / AP
Later Thursday night, Beshear he tweeted who asked President Biden for federal help, adding that “the damage sustained is enormous and the recovery will be a long-term effort.”
Flash floods and mudslides were reported in the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southern West Virginia, where storms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days.
“Guys, I don’t know how much more rain Buckhorn can take,” Marlene Abner Stokely said in a video she posted to Facebook, showing how Squabble Creek overflowed and flooded a historic Kentucky church. “You can see it’s pretty much taken over.”
Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without power in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
“We are currently experiencing one of the worst and most devastating flood events in Kentucky history,” Beshear said. “The situation is dynamic and ongoing. In most places, we’re not seeing the water recede. In fact, in most places, it’s not crested yet.”
“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on rooftops waiting to be rescued,” the governor added. “There are a number of people who are unknown and I’m pretty sure this is a situation where we’re going to lose some of them.”
Rescue crews worked through the night to help people stranded by rising waters in eastern Kentucky’s Perry County, where emergency management director Jerry Stacy described it as ‘”catastrophic event”.
“We’re in rescue mode right now,” Stacy said, speaking to The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard. “Extreme flash floods and mudslides are everywhere.”
The storms hit a mountainous region of Appalachia where communities and homes are built on steep hillsides or in the gaps between them, where the only flat land often carries fast-rising streams and creeks. But this is far worse than a typical flood, Stacy, 54, said.
“I’ve lived here in Perry County my whole life and this is by far the worst event I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Roads in many areas were impassable after up to 6 inches of rain fell in some areas Thursday and another 1 to 3 inches could fall, the National Weather Service said.
Beshear said he has deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas and that three parks in the region were opened as shelters for displaced people.
In Kentucky’s Perry, Leslie and Clay counties, people in low-lying areas were urged to seek higher ground after several swift water rescues. The Breathitt County Courthouse was open overnight, and Emergency Management Director Chris Friley said the Old Montessori School would provide a more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.
“It’s the worst we’ve had in a long time,” Friley told WKYT-TV. “It’s all over the county again. There are several places that are still not accessible to rescue crews.”
Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off their foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night and urged people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break in the rain.”
In West Virginia’s Greenbrier County, firefighters pulled people from flooded homes and five campers stranded by high water in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department, WCHS-TV reported .
Communities in southwest Virginia were also flooding, and the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va., warned of more showers and thunderstorms Thursday.
In Buchanan County, which was hit by severe flooding two weeks ago, preliminary assessments of previous flooding were postponed for safety amid the latest high water, according to Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Lauren Opt. Officials were determining whether it is feasible to conduct the assessments virtually, he said.
And in Wise County, the Office of Emergency Management warned of imminent flooding and road closures in the Pound Bottom area Thursday morning. Officials advised residents to shelter in place until floodwaters receded or to evacuate to an elementary school shelter.