As the death toll in flooded areas of Kentucky continues to rise, rescuers and officials are focusing on recovering missing people in multiple counties and coordinating lifesaving assistance for thousands of displaced residents.
At least 28 people, including four children, have died as a result of severe flooding that hit parts of Kentucky last week, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Sunday. The governor told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he believed recovery teams “were going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of which swept hundreds of yards, possibly over a quarter mile of where they were last.”
Reading a list of those killed in each county at a press conference on Sunday, Beshear became visibly emotional when he reached the four dead children in Knott County, where 15 people were found dead.
“It says ‘minors,'” the governor said, looking at the list. “They’re kids. The oldest is in second grade,” Beshear said.
The floods — which swelled on roads, destroyed bridges and washed away entire homes — displaced thousands of Kentuckians, according to the governor. It also destroyed vital infrastructure for electricity, water and roads, some of which still needs to be restored.
There was a risk of flash flooding Sunday evening through Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service. A slight risk of excessive precipitation is possible throughout the affected region on Monday and Tuesday. Conditions are expected to start improving on Monday, but the area could receive up to two inches of rain in total over two days. Some areas could see more.
In Perry County, as many as 50 bridges are damaged and inaccessible, according to County Executive Judge Scott Alexander.
“What that means is there’s someone living on the other side or multiple families living on the other side that we still can’t access by road,” Alexander said. .
Kentucky State Police are still actively searching for missing residents in multiple counties and are asking families to notify law enforcement if their loved one is missing.
Search and recovery efforts could hit another hurdle as temperatures are set to soar on Tuesday and through the rest of the week, leaving crews, volunteers, displaced people and the region’s population homeless under intense heat.
As the climate crisis fuels more extreme and frequent weather events, several regions of the United States currently face the risk of flash flooding, including swathes of the desert southwest, Knoxville, Tennessee and Tucson, Arizona.
State officials are immediately focusing on providing food, water and shelter to people who have been forced to flee their homes.
Power outages and storm damage left 22 water systems operating in limited capacity, a news release from the governor’s office said Sunday. More than 60,000 water service connections are either without water or on a boil advisory, he said.
Nearly 10,000 customers in the eastern region of the state were still without power Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.
Officials overseeing recovery efforts say bottled water, cleaning supplies and relief fund donations are among the resources most needed as the region works towards short- and long-term recovery. FEMA provides semi-trailers filled with water to several counties.
“A lot of these places have never been flooded. So if they’ve never been flooded, these people won’t have flood insurance,” the mayor of Hazard told CNN on Saturday, in the Kentucky, Donald Mobelini “If they lose their house, it’s a total loss. There won’t be an insurance check to help that. We need cash donations,” he said , referring to a relief fund set up by the state.
Beshear established an Eastern Kentucky Team Flood Relief Fund to pay funeral expenses for flood victims and raise funds for those affected by the damage. As of Sunday morning, the fund had received more than $1 million in donations, according to the governor.
The federal government has approved relief funding for several counties. FEMA is also accepting individual applications for disaster assistance from impacted tenants and homeowners in Breathitt, Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties, the governor said, noting he thinks other counties will be added to the list as damage assessments continue.
Although the recovery effort was still in the search and rescue phase over the weekend, Beshear told a Saturday press conference that he believed casualties would be “in the range of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars”.
“This is one of the most devastating and deadly floods we have seen in our history,” Beshear told NBC on Sunday. “It wiped out areas where people didn’t have much to start with.”
And it wasn’t just personal property washed away by the floodwaters. A building housing archival film and other materials in Whitesburg was hit, with water submerging an irreplaceable collection of historic films, videotapes and audio recordings that documented Appalachia.
Appalachian filmmaker Mimi Pickering told CNN that the beloved media, arts and education center, Appalshop, has archival footage and film strips dating back to the 1940s, containing the stories and voice of the inhabitants of the region. Staff and volunteers raced to save as much material as possible.
“We’re working as hard and as fast as we can to try to salvage all that material… I don’t think the full impact has hit me yet. I think I don’t really want to think about it,” Pickering said. She noted that the Smithsonian and other institutions have reached out to offer help.
The significant loss the Kentuckians are experiencing will likely also have a mental impact, Frances Everage, a therapist and 44-year-old resident of the town of Hazard told CNN. While her home was spared, she said some of her friends had damaged homes or lost their entire farms.
“When you put your blood and sweat and tears into something and see it torn apart before your eyes, there’s going to be a grieving process,” Everage said. “This community will rebuild and everything will be fine, but the impact on mental health is going to be significant.”