BUCKHORN, Ky. — Devastated communities in eastern Kentucky began digging Sunday as the state’s death toll rose again and another round of storms threatened to expand historic flooding.
The death toll was 28 as of Sunday evening, according to the governor’s office, up from 26 earlier in the day. State officials said they still expect the death toll to rise in the coming days.
Dozens of people are still missing and some areas are inaccessible to search and rescue teams. Irregular mobile phone service added to the chaos.
Signs of survival and heroism were everywhere, Governor Andy Beshear said.
“A lot of people…have lost everything, but they’re not even getting things for themselves, they’re getting things for other people in their neighborhood, making sure their neighbors are okay,” said Beshear.
Excessive runoff from downpours and thunderstorms Sunday and Monday could lead to further flooding of rivers, streams and creeks, 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.
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Hard-hit counties, including Floyd, Knott and Perry, were on high alert. Power, water, shelter and cell service are major issues in some communities, Beshear said. The floods have swamped neighborhoods where people had little to begin with, he said, and a heat wave predicted this week will add to 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.”
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.
Up to 4 inches of rain fell in some areas Sunday, the National Weather Service said, with more precipitation possible.
And the rains of Sunday and Monday will not end, warned the weather service. Thunderstorms are possible on Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday.
A dozen open shelters for flood victims across the state attracted 388 occupants on Sunday, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About 70 trailers — purchased by the state for use after the killer tornadoes that tore through western Kentucky in December — were deployed as temporary shelters.
“Yesterday our first caravans arrived and we are working quickly to establish additional shelter options,” Beshear said.
The state plans to work with area hotels to pay room costs for displaced residents — and to cover funeral costs for those killed in the floods.
Researchers go door to door
Over 1,200 rescues have taken place. 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, Beshear said. Heavy rains make it difficult and some people cannot be reached, he said.
Damage to critical infrastructure challenges rescuers. Dozens of bridges are destroyed and roads washed away, making it difficult for communities to access water and other desperately needed necessities.
“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.”
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A teenager spends hours on the roof with a dog
When her home in Whitesburg flooded on Thursday, 17-year-old Chloe Adams put her dog, Sandy, in a plastic container and swam 70 yards to safety on a neighbor’s roof, waiting for hours until daylight before a parent in a kayak arrives and takes them away. difficulty.
“She’s a hero. I love you Chloe. You are just amazing,” her father, Terry, wrote on Facebook in a post that included a photo of his daughter sitting barely above the floodwaters, clinging to the dog. “We lost everything today…everything but what matters most.”
Digging begins in small towns
In southeastern Kentucky, small mountain towns that were hard to reach because fallen trees or roads blocked by high water began digging in Sunday. In Buckhorn, a Perry County hamlet of about 130 people, flooding from an arm of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River swept away cars and destroyed homes Wednesday and Thursday.
At Buckhorn School, a community gathering point that dates back to the early 1900s where more than 300 students are drawn from all over the mountainous region, the torrents of water and debris that have risen from Squabble Creek, which runs along the school, smashed walls, smashed windows and tore up the asphalt in the parking lot two weeks before the start of the school year.
Damaged schools provided more than education
Like other area schools, K-12 Buckhorn 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.
Engle said she was happy to be alive. In the early hours of Thursday, she said, her family was trapped by the roaring waters that reached their doorstep 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 help flooded communities
Teachers and students at Buckhorn School distributed food, water and supplies to families in need.
“Some kids have had their homes swept away,” said high school teacher Jalen Cooper, 27, explaining that some were staying in hotels and others crammed with parents who have 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’s ‘Rainbow Lane’ nearly swept away
Knott County had the highest death toll at 14, according to the coroner, including four younger siblings. Residents along Troublesome Creek in the community of Fisty call a short stretch of Kentucky Route 550 “Rainbow Lane”. 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 White House provides assistance to Kentucky
The Biden administration added individual assistance to the president’s 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.