“I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant, deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “Unfortunately, I expect double-digit deaths in this flooding.”
At least sixteen people have died as a result of widespread flooding in eastern Kentucky – two people in Perry County, and one in Knott County.
This part of the US state is enduring “one of the worst, most devastating flooding events” in the commonwealth’s history Thursday after heavy overnight rains caused untold damage and forced some residents to the roofs of their swamped homes to await rescue, the governor said.
“We expect the loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes, and this is going to be yet another event (where) it’s going to take not months, but likely years, for many families to rebuild and recover,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news conference Thursday morning in Frankfort.
Portions of eastern Kentucky received more than 8 inches of rain from Wednesday into Thursday morning, overwhelming creeks, streams and ground already saturated from previous rain, the National Weather Service said. Flood and flash flood warnings are in effect for portions of eastern Kentucky into Thursday afternoon.
“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on roofs, waiting to be rescued,” and “a number of people” were unaccounted for, Beshear said Thursday morning, adding that he activated the National Guard to help with rescues and recovery.
The Guard has identified people stuck on roofs, and was “making preparations to go in and withdraw them,” the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton, said at the news conference, without detailing where these people were.
In the small creekside town of Hindman, waist-high water turned a main road into a river before dawn, video from storm chaser Brandon Clement shows.
Barbara Wicker was worried about relatives in town, including five grandchildren, because water had surrounded their homes, she told Clement.
“I can’t reach them. I can’t reach 911. … There’s no help in sight,” Wicker told Clement early Thursday outside in Hindman, a Knott County town roughly a 130-mile drive southeast of Lexington.
“That goes way up in there — everybody’s stuck,” Hindman resident Kendra Bentley, also standing near a road outside, told Clement about floodwater surrounding homes.
Swift-water rescues have been reported Thursday in Kentucky’s Perry County, including in Chavies, a community of a few hundred people roughly 30 miles west of Hindman and a 110-mile drive southeast of Lexington, the weather service said.
In the Perry County community of Buckhorn, deep floodwaters surrounded a school Thursday morning, forming a large, brown lake around the building and swallowing all but the top of a playground set, video posted to Facebook by Marlene Abner Stokely shows.
The National Guard was deploying helicopters and trucks that can move through water to deliver supplies and transport people, and Beshear also declared an emergency to help unlock other resources, he said.
Fish and wildlife workers were “out with boats, working to make water rescues where safe for their personnel,” he said.
Rescue areas included a school in Breathitt County, where a couple of staff members were stranded in an otherwise empty building, Beshear said. The Guard was preparing to rescue them, Lamberton said Thursday morning.
More than 24,000 power outages were reported in Kentucky as of 11:30 a.m., mostly in the east, according to PowerOutage.us.
Water service also was interrupted in parts of eastern Kentucky Thursday, in part because pipes burst in flooding events and systems need to be shut down for repairs, Beshear said. Truckloads of water were being sent to the region, he said.
Three state parks will be available to shelter people who lost their homes, Beshear said.
More flooding is possible Thursday especially in parts of eastern Kentucky — where another 1 to 3 inches are possible during the day – southern West Virginia and far southwest Virginia, the weather service said.
‘Please stay off the roads’
In the Breathitt County community of Jackson, floodwater swiftly ran past a home in Thursday’s pre-dawn darkness, carrying a trash can and other debris with it, video recorded by Deric Lostutter showed.
Breathitt County opened its courthouse building as a shelter for those displaced by the flooding, the county’s emergency management agency said on Facebook.
“Many roadways in the county are becoming covered with water and are impassable. Please stay off the roads if at all possible tonight,” the post said.
— WxChasing- Brandon Clement (@bclemms) July 28, 2022
Rescue crews have been unable to reach several areas due to “swift water over roadways,” the emergency management agency noted.
Swollen rivers and creeks in the region spilled into the land.
Near Whitesburg, an eastern Kentucky community of more than 1,500 people near the Virginia state line, the North Fork Kentucky River surpassed its previous record height by 5 feet, according to provisional automatic data from the United States Geological Survey.
The gauge there was reading 20.91 feet at 10 a.m. Thursday; the previous record was 14.7 feet, set on January 29, 1957. The data is preliminary and will need to be reviewed, because items can become stuck to the gauge and give false readings during major flooding.
‘Seemingly never-ending fire hose’ of moisture across much of US
Thursday’s inundation in Kentucky comes two days after record-breaking rainfall caused widespread flash flooding in the St. Louis area.
It’s part of a “seemingly never-ending fire hose of monsoonal and Gulf of Mexico moisture that is producing a conveyor belt of heavy rain and thunderstorms from the Southwest to the central Appalachians,” the Weather Prediction Center said Thursday morning.
A moderate risk – or level 3 of 4 – of excessive rainfall exists Thursday for parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and northern Tennessee – as well as parts of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, the prediction center said.
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