The governor of Kentucky said it could take weeks to find all the victims of a flash flood that killed at least 25 people as torrential rain flooded towns across Appalachia.
Governor Andy Beshear said Saturday that the number of victims is likely to increase significantly as a result of record flash floods over the past several days.
“This is an ongoing natural disaster,” Beshear told Fox News. “We are still in search and rescue mode. Thankfully, the rain has stopped. But it will rain more starting Sunday afternoon.”
Meanwhile, rescue teams continue to struggle to get into hard-hit areas, some of which are among the poorest in the US. The governor said crews made more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats.
The rain stopped early Friday after parts of eastern Kentucky received 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20-27 cm) in 48 hours. But some waterways are not expected to peak until Saturday.
Patricia Colombo, 63, of Hazard, Kentucky, was trapped when her car stalled in floodwater on a state highway. Colombo began to panic when the water began to pour in. Even though her phone was dead, she still saw a helicopter overhead and waved it down. The helicopter crew alerted a ground team to take her to safety.
Colombo stayed the night at his fiancé’s home in Jackson and they took turns sleeping, constantly testing the water with a flashlight to see if it was rising. Although her car has suffered a loss, Colombo said others have experienced worse in an area of widespread poverty.
“Many of these people can’t recover here. They have houses that are half-underwater, they’ve lost everything,” she said.
It’s the latest in a string of catastrophic crimes that have plagued parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis earlier this week and again on Friday. Climate change is making weather disasters more common, scientists warn.
As heavy rainfall hits Appalachia this week, the water pours down hillsides and into valleys and valleys, where it forms creeks and streams that flow through small towns. The floodwaters flooded homes, businesses and wrecked vehicles. Landslides carried some people on steep slopes.
Rescue teams backed by the National Guard used helicopters and boats to search for the missing. Beshear said on Friday that at least six children were among the victims and that the total death toll could double as rescue teams reach more areas. Among the dead were four children from the same family in Knott County, the county coroner said Friday.
President Joe Biden said in a social media post that he spoke Friday with Beshear and offered federal government assistance. Biden also declared a federal disaster to divert relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties.
The flood extended to western Virginia and southern West Virginia.
Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia, where flooding toppled trees, lost power and blocked roads. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing officials to mobilize resources across the flooded southwest of the state.
More than 20,000 utility customers in Kentucky and nearly 6,100 in Virginia remained without power late Friday, poweroutage.us reported.
According to scientists, extreme rainfall events are becoming more and more common as climate change affects the planet and alters weather patterns. It’s a growing challenge for officials in times of disaster, because the models used to predict hurricane impacts are partly based on past events and can’t keep up with current events. Flash floods and heat waves are increasingly devastating, such as recent ones in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Delta.
“It’s a battle of extremes going on in the United States,” said University of Oklahoma meteorologist Jason Furtado. “These are the things we expect to happen due to climate change. … A warmer atmosphere contains more water vapor and that means you can generate more precipitation.”
The cataclysm came two days after record rains around St. Louis dropped more than 12 inches (31 cm) and killed at least two people. Last month, heavy rain on snowy mountains in Yellowstone National Park caused historic flooding and displaced more than 10,000 people. In both cases, the rains and floods far exceeded what forecasters predicted.
Floodwaters swept through Appalachia so quickly that it was impossible to immediately contact some of those trapped in their homes, said Robbie Williams, Floyd County Judge-Executive.
Authorities say a number of people have yet to be found in the western part of the hard-hit Perry County to the west, and that virtually everyone in the area suffered some damage.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Jerry Stacy, the county’s director of emergency management.
Beshear said more than 330 people sought shelter. And with so much property damage, the governor opened an online portal to donate to the victims.
Beshear predicts that it will take more than a year to completely rebuild.
Parts of at least 28 Kentucky roads have been closed due to flooding or landslides. Rescue teams in Virginia and West Virginia have been working to reach people in places where roads are impassable.