BUCKHORN, Ky. — Devastated communities in eastern Kentucky began to dig in earnest Sunday as the state’s death toll rose and another round of storms threatened to expand historic flooding.
Dozens of people are still missing and some areas have remained inaccessible to search and rescue teams. Irregular mobile phone service added to the chaos.
“In more difficult news for the Commonwealth this morning, our death toll has risen to 26 – and that number will rise,” Governor Andy Beshear said on social media on Sunday. “There is extensive damage with many families displaced and more rain expected.”
Excessive runoff from downpours and thunderstorms Sunday and Monday could lead to additional flooding of rivers, streams and streams across much of central and eastern Kentucky, the National Weather Service warned. Rainfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour could trigger flash flooding, especially in areas that experience repeated cycles of thunderstorms.
Hard-hit counties including Floyd, Knott and Perry are among the areas under alert. Power, water, shelter and cell service are major issues in some communities, Beshear said. The floods swamped some neighborhoods where people had little to begin with, he said, and a heat wave predicted this week will further aggravate the suffering.
The floods caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and displaced hundreds of people, he said.
“We want to make sure we wrap our arms around our Eastern Kentucky brothers and sisters and make sure they’re okay,” Beshear said. “We’ll be here for you today, tomorrow next week, next year. We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to help you rebuild.”
Beshear asked people to donate cleaning supplies or water or donate directly to the state flood relief fund, where 100% of donations go to affected Kentuckians.
►A bigger picture: Climate change reveals a growing gap between the weather we’ve predicted and what’s to come
►In Eastern Kentucky: Floods bring back memories of previous disasters
►Where is the flood? See photos, drone videos of the devastation
Almost a foot of rain; more is to come
The hardest hit areas of eastern Kentucky received nearly a foot of rain late last week. The North Fork of the Kentucky River reached 20.9 feet at Whitesburg, more than 6 feet above the previous record, and peaked at a record 43.5 feet at Jackson, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon said. Leaps.
The rains on Sunday and Monday will not end, warned the weather service. Thunderstorms are also possible on Tuesday, as well as Thursday through Saturday.
The dozen shelters open to flood victims across the state drew 388 occupants on Sunday, FEMA said. About 70 trailers — purchased by the state for use during the killer tornadoes that ripped through western Kentucky in December — are being deployed as temporary shelters.
“Yesterday our first caravans arrived and we are working quickly to establish additional shelter options,” Beshear said.
The state also plans to work with area hotels to pay room costs for displaced residents — and to cover funeral costs for those killed in the floods.
Over 1,200 rescues have taken place. Still, several state police stations have received calls from people unable to contact family and friends. The National Guard has been called in and is helping first responders go door to door to find as many people as possible, he said. But the heavy rains make it difficult and some people cannot be reached, he said.
Damage to critical infrastructure also poses challenges for rescuers. Dozens of bridges are destroyed and roads washed away, making it difficult to reach some communities to deliver water and other necessities, he said.
“The next few days are going to be tough,” Beshear said. “We have rain, and maybe even a lot of rain that will hit the same areas.”
In southeastern Kentucky, some small mountain towns that were initially hard to reach due to roads blocked by fallen trees or floodwaters were starting to dig in Sunday. In Buckhorn, a Perry County hamlet of about 130 people, a branch of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River swept away cars and destroyed homes during historic flooding Wednesday and Thursday.
One of its key community gathering points has also been decimated: Buckhorn School, which dates back to the early 1900s and has more than 300 students from across the mountainous region.
Torrents of water and debris that rose from Squabble Creek, which runs alongside the school, tore through walls, smashed windows and tore the asphalt in the parking lot to pieces just two weeks before the start of the school year .
Like other area schools, K-12 County Public School serves as an important resource center for students whose families live on low incomes, said Kristie Combs, 46, a special education teacher.
“It’s more than just a school, it’s a community,” said Combs, who inspected the damage for the first time on Saturday after water receded from a road leading to his home in a town 20 miles away.
In a nearby neighborhood along the creek, where generators were humming Saturday, Teresa Engle, 33, said her two children, Haley, 8, and EJ, 6, would likely go to another school or another county.
For now, Engle said she’s just happy to be alive. In the early hours of Thursday, she said her family was trapped by the roaring waters that reached the gate but left it untouched. Others were less fortunate.
“We could just see cars and houses going by,” she said. “I have never been so terrified.”
On Saturday, her daughter gave a stuffed animal and a pair of boots to a neighbour’s child whose house had been destroyed.
Teachers and students at Buckhorn School were distributing food, water and supplies to families in need.
“Some kids have had houses washed away,” said high school teacher Jalen Cooper, 27, explaining that some were staying in hotels and others were packing parents who had generators.
“It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of courage,” he said. “But we know how to pass.”
Knott County had the highest death toll at 14, according to the local coroner, and four younger siblings were among the dead. Residents along Troublesome Creek in the quiet community of Fisty call it a short stretch of Kentucky Route 550 “Rainbow Alley.” Each house is painted a different color, but the houses have been reduced to piles of mangled cinder blocks and destroyed property. Some residents retreated to the fire building at a higher elevation as the raging creek caused unprecedented destruction.
“It’s never been like this before,” said Bert Combs, 58, as he stood shirtless, looking out over the creek and what was left of Rainbow Lane. The rain, he said, “just kept coming.”
The state must “build back stronger” to compensate for more intense storms brought on by climate change, Beshear said. Roads, bridges, culverts, water supply and sewage treatment systems and flood walls must be designed to withstand greater intensity, he said.
An infrastructure bill with bipartisan support is a good start, Beshear said.
“Infrastructure is so expensive,” he said NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “If we really want to be more resilient, it’s going to take a major federal investment, as well as here in the state. We’re ready to do our part.”
White House provides quick aid to Kentucky
The Biden administration added individual assistance to its major disaster declaration to help Eastern Kentucky residents who “have lost everything,” noting that the recovery will be long-term.
“I am taking more action to help displaced families and lost lives,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
FEMA said individual assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners. to recover from the effects of the disaster.
Contributor: Lucas Aulbach, Louisville Courier Journal; The Associated Press
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia.