(CNN)– At least 15 people have lost their lives in widespread flooding in eastern Kentucky after heavy overnight rains, the governor said Thursday, a flood he describes as “one of the most significant, deadly floods” in the history of the autonomous territory.
“There are going to be a lot of people that need our help,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Frankfort.
Beshear told Brianna Keilar on CNN’s New Day on Wednesday that 15 lives have been lost and that number is expected to double. She said that figure includes children.
US President Joe Biden approved the Kentucky disaster declaration on Friday and “ordered federal aid to supplement local efforts (…) in areas affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and landslides.” of land beginning July 26,” says a White House statement.
Hazard, Kentucky Mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini told CNN Friday morning that “today is going to be a sad day” amid historic flash flooding.
“It’s all sad … but this is the first time I can remember that there has been a loss of life, and right now we don’t know what that looks like,” the mayor told CNN’s Joe Johns.
The town of Hazard is in Perry County, which reported at least 2 deaths from Friday’s flooding, CNN reported.
“The houses of people who have lived there for 50, 75 years were flooded…there has never been water near them, and the water came in quickly, it was very powerful,” he said.
The mayor said residents and officials are “so overwhelmed that we don’t really know what to ask for.”
Torrential rain in Kentucky
Portions of eastern Kentucky received more than 200mm of rain from Wednesday through Thursday morning, flooding creeks, creeks and ground already saturated from earlier rains, the National Weather Service (NWS) said. . Flood and flash flood warnings are in effect for parts of eastern Kentucky through Thursday afternoon.
The rains have caused untold damage to homes in central Appalachia, forcing some residents to climb onto the roofs of their flooded homes to await rescue, the governor said.
“Hundreds of people are going to lose their homes, and this is going to be another event (where) it’s going to take not months, but probably years, for a lot of families to rebuild and get back on their feet,” Beshear said at a news conference Thursday for the morning.
Beshear activated the National Guard to help with rescue and recovery and declared an emergency to expedite relief resources, he said.
The Guard has identified people stuck on rooftops and was “making preparations to remove them,” Adjutant General of State Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton said at the morning news conference, without detailing where those people were.
Videos from various locations showed how the waters covered the roads and swallowed part of the houses and vehicles.
In the small town of Hindman, situated next to a creek, a lake was generated in the valley areas, almost covering the trucks and invading numerous houses, in some cases reaching almost to their roofs, according to the video of a drone recorded by the storm chaser Brandon Clement.
Barbara Wicker was concerned for her relatives in Hindman, including her five grandchildren, because water had surrounded their homes, she told Clement in a predawn interview.
“I can’t get them. I can’t get 911. … There’s no help in sight,” Wicker told Clement in Hindman, a Knott County town about 130 miles southeast of Lexington.
“Everyone is stuck,” Hindman resident Kendra Bentley, who was also near a road, told Clement of the floodwaters surrounding homes.
Floodwater also covered much of the Breathitt County town of Lost Creek, a 90-mile drive southeast of Lexington, video from CNN affiliate WKYT showed. Fast-moving waters covered at least one home and ripped off the porch stairs of another, WKYT reported Thursday morning.
The region suffers cuts in electricity and water service
The National Guard was deploying helicopters and trucks that can move across 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 do water rescues where it’s safe for their staff,” she said.
The rescue zones 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 2 pm, mostly in the East, according to PowerOutage.us.
Water service was also interrupted in parts of eastern Kentucky on Thursday, in part because pipes broke in flood events and systems must be shut down for repairs, Beshear said. Beshear also claimed that bongs were shipped to the region.
The governor stated that three state parks will be available as shelters for people who have lost their homes.
More flooding is possible this Thursday, especially in parts of eastern Kentucky, where an additional 50 to 75mm of rain is likely to fall during the day, southern West Virginia and far southwestern Virginia, the service said. meteorological.
Please stay off the roads
In the Breathitt County community of Jackson, floodwaters rushed past a home in the dark before dawn Thursday, washing away a garbage can and other debris, video recorded by Deric Lostutter showed. .
Breathitt County opened its courthouse building as a shelter for those displaced by the flood, the county’s emergency management agency said on Facebook.
“Many county roads are being covered in water and are impassable. Please stay off the roads if possible tonight,” the post read.
Rescue teams have been unable to reach several areas due to “rapid water over the roads,” the emergency management agency said.
In the Perry County community of Buckhorn, deep waters surrounded a school Thursday morning, forming a large brown lake around the building and engulfing all but the top of a playset, a photo shows. video posted on Facebook by Marlene Abner Stokely.
The region’s swollen rivers and streams overflowed their banks.
Near Whitesburg, an eastern Kentucky community of more than 1,500 people near the Virginia state line, the North Fork Kentucky River topped its previous height record by 5 feet, according to provisional automatic data from the Geological Survey. from the United States.
On Thursday at 10 in the morning, the manometer marked a height of 6.3 meters; the previous record was 4.4 meters, set on January 29, 1957. The data is preliminary and will have to be revised, as it is possible for meters to give false readings during major floods.
An “endless hose” of moisture across much of the US
Thursday’s flooding in Kentucky comes two days after record rains caused widespread flash flooding in the Saint Louis area.
It’s part of a “seemingly endless hose of Gulf of Mexico and monsoon moisture that is producing a band of heavy rain and thunderstorms from the southwest to central Appalachia,” the Weather Prediction Center said Thursday. morning.
Recent rains, and those to come, increase the likelihood of more flash flooding in parts of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys and central Appalachia over the next two days, the forecast center said.
There is a moderate risk, level 3 of 4, of excessive rain on Thursday for Kentucky, West Virginia and northern Tennessee, as well as parts of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, the forecast center said.
The climate crisis is driving precipitation around the world. The atmosphere can retain more moisture as temperatures rise, and that can lead to higher precipitation rates and make record-breaking downpours more likely.
Scientists are growing confident in the role that the climate crisis plays in extreme weather, and have warned that these events will become more intense and dangerous as warming increases.
— CNN’s Chris Boyette, Monica Garrett, Sara Smart and Judson Jones contributed to this report.