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At least 16 people have died and many are missing after heavy rains caused major flooding in parts of eastern Kentucky and surrounding Appalachian communities. More rain is forecast with flood watches continuing through Friday evening.
Homes, businesses and roads were under water after severe weather hit parts of this Kentucky and West Virginia and Virginia earlier this week, and search and rescue efforts continued.
The disaster is “one of the most severe and devastating floods in Kentucky history,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said Thursday.
Beshear has deployed the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in several counties, Karyn Czar of member station WUKY reports. President Biden on Friday declared a major disaster for Kentucky and ordered federal aid to help recovery efforts.
At least 12 counties and two cities in Kentucky have also declared their own states of emergency.
Beshear told The Associated Press that some of the victims were children and the death toll could more than double as emergency crews continue to search the area.
He said the lack of cell service and reliable forms of communication has prevented the state from collecting reliable numbers on who is counted. Beshear estimates that nearly 300 people were rescued by plane or boat.
The Kentucky River has reached 6 feet above its previous record, and the water likely won’t recede until Saturday, NPR’s Jeanine Herbst reports.
Search and rescue teams, backed by the National Guard, are still searching for missing people. Emergency teams were able to airlift dozens of people.
WUKY’s Josh James reported that hundreds of people are on the verge of losing their homes and recovery could take years in some parts of the state.
Ten shelters welcomed more than 300 people.
On Friday, state and local officials ordered the evacuation of part of the town of Jackson, Ky., after concerns were raised about an impending breach of Panbowl Dam. On Friday morning, Beshear said officials were “a bit more optimistic but still worried.”
Power outages continued through Friday in parts of the Kentucky and Appalachian communities. About 33,000 people lost power in the area, according to PowerOutage.US.
Heavy rains are expected to continue in central and eastern Kentucky. Some areas will remain under flood watch until 10 p.m. ET, according to the National Weather Service.
In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency for six counties where flooding has downed trees, knocked out power and blocked roads. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration for flooded areas in the southwest of the state.
“With more rainfall forecast over the next few days, we want to lean forward in providing as many resources as possible to help those affected,” Youngkin said.