“We are currently experiencing one of the most severe and devastating floods in Kentucky history,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a press conference Thursday morning.
Beshear later warned that the destruction is far from over as more rain is expected on Friday. Eastern Kentucky is at light to moderate risk of flash flooding through Friday evening as an additional 1 to 3 inches is possible throughout the day, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
An elderly man and woman died after being carried from their home in the Oneida community near Manchester, Ky., according to Clay County Coroner Jarrod Becknell. The man was 76 and the woman was in her late 60s or early 70s, Deputy Coroner Joe Crockett said.
It’s unclear whether the two deaths are included in the statewide death toll of eight that Beshear announced earlier Thursday.
Kentucky officials on Thursday night recommended people evacuate homes and businesses from the Lake Panbowl floodplain in Jackson, citing rising water levels in the Kentucky River and a “muddy dump” seen near from the lake dam. A portion of Kentucky Route 15 was also closed Thursday evening.
Parts of West Virginia and West Virginia also experienced severe flooding on Thursday and are expected to see more precipitation on Friday. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued a statewide emergency declaration and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for the counties of Fayette, Greenbrier, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming, according to press releases from the governors’ offices.
Much of West Virginia is at moderate risk of flash flooding on Friday, according to the Weather Prediction Center. The southwest region of Virginia is also at risk of flooding Friday with between one and two inches of rain possible, and potentially more in some local areas, according to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va.
During a briefing at the White House on Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will travel to Kentucky on Friday to assess the damage. and report to President Joe Biden.
FEMA also dispatched rescue personnel and an incident management assistance team to assist the state’s rescue efforts, she said.
Rescues complicated by widespread waters, power outages
As floodwaters rose to dangerous levels, some Kentuckians soon became trapped and could not escape to safety. As many as 30 people were airlifted by the National Guard on Thursday, Beshear said.
In Floyd County, about 80 people have been rescued since heavy rains began in the area on Tuesday, County Executive Judge Robbie Williams told CNN.
“I’ve never seen so much water before,” Williams said. “I mean, it’s absolutely raining and we have, you know, little towns that are completely underwater.”
Widespread water and power outages in the area are hampering recovery efforts, Beshear said Thursday. He noted that the floods are making it difficult for utility workers to access areas needed to restore power.
The state also has a limited number of helicopters capable of lifting people into the air, the governor said. In an effort to aid the state’s recovery efforts, West Virginia and Tennessee sent helicopters with lifting capabilities to Kentucky.
West Virginia has also deployed National Guard troops to help its neighboring state, Governor Justice announced.
Communities have also taken action to help their neighbors, including residents of the Town of Whitesburg.
“We took kayaks, jet skis, boats, chainsaws and hatchets everywhere we could,” Zach Caudill told CNN. Caudill’s home only suffered a few inches of flooding, but he said several of his neighbors lost their homes completely.
Caudill grabbed bandages, gauze, medicine, menstrual supplies, food, water and blankets from his home to take to others, he said.
“Everyone was there trying to lend a hand and help. That’s how tight-knit our community is,” Caudill said. “When one of us hurts, we all hurt.”
Kentucky State Police are asking residents of at least eight counties to call them if they have missing family members and provide information about their loved ones. Counties include Wolfe, Owsley, Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Pike and Perry.
Climate crisis leads to more intense floods
As global temperatures rise, the atmosphere is able to hold more and more water, making water vapor more abundantly available to fall as rain.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall over land has become more intense since the 1980s. The report’s authors say human influence is the main driver.
CNN’s Angela Fritz, Caitlin Kaiser, Sara Smart, Sharif Paget, Amanda Musa, Claudia Dominguez, Michelle Watson, Caitlyn Kaiser and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.