Devastating flash floods throughout eastern Kentucky have left eight residents dead, dozens of homes submerged in water, and others completely swept away from their foundations as Governor Andy Beshear (D) declared Thursday a state of emergency while the death toll rises.
“It’s awful,” Beshear told WKYT-TV. “We’ve been through two and a half years of a pandemic, multiple ice storms — the worst tornado event that we’ve ever seen — multiple rounds of flooding, and this one, which is going to be deadly and devastating.”
Beshear said authorities expect the death toll to reach double digits by the time the waters dry out, with “a lot” of families losing everything.
He called the natural disaster one of the “worst and most devastating events in Kentucky’s history.”
Multiple counties across Appalachia, Kentucky, have endured torrential rains since early Thursday morning as floodwaters began rushing down the hillsides and completely swallowing up portions of the Kentucky River, sending residents searching for high ground until rescue teams could save them.
National Weather Service reports that approximately six inches of rain had fallen in some areas, making it impossible to pass through some roads. Residents can expect another 1-3 inches more into Friday.
Beshear said air support has rescued between 20-30 people, with the U.S. National Guard using zodiac boats to save residents in some of the most challenging areas. At the same time, they watch as homes, trailers, and vehicles drift away.
WKYT-TV reports one such rescue involved a mother and her disabled son waiting on a porch until a team brought them to safety.
Some have braved the current to save their valuables.
Krystal Holbrook, of Breathitt County, told the Associated Press her family raced against the flood by gathering possessions before it became too late.
“It looks like a huge lake back here,” Holbrook said.
Roughly 23,000 residents lost power resources statewide, shutting down phone and internet service and the water systems. Beshear said that the state ordered truckloads of water for the families impacted by the disaster, among many other resources, after requesting federal assistance directly from President Biden.
“The damage suffered is enormous, and recovery will be a long-term effort,” the governor said in a tweet. “This assistance is critical to our efforts and essential for our people.”
However, one resident told WKYT that he and other residents impacted by the disaster are still waiting on federal help from the last flood in March 2021.
“I’ve done all the paperwork, sent pictures in like they told me, and I ain’t get one cent yet,” Michael Hollan, a Jackson resident, said. “Not one penny.”
Beshear said the state launched the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund on Thursday, which would go 100% to the families devastated by the disaster.
“It’s a way that we can make sure that we’re not just there for them today, tomorrow, and next week, but it’s going to take a long time to rebuild,” he said.
“I wish I could tell you why we’ve been hit by so much between pandemic and ice storms, tornadoes, and now this, but what I can tell you is we see God in the response and the special people that are out there and the way people open their homes and their hearts to help each other,” the governor added.
“Stay strong, Kentucky.”