The death toll in flood– affected parts of eastern Kentucky climbed to at least 25 and will almost certainly “worsen” as first responders work to account for the missing residents, the state governor said Saturday.
Governor Andy Beshear said the immediate goal is “to get as many people to safety as possible” following what officials have described as unprecedented flooding in the region.
Hundreds of people have been rescued by air and water in recent days by members of the National Guard from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, as well as officers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and State Police.
“It is very difficult at the moment, with how great the destruction is (and) the areas being affected, to get a landline number of missing persons,” Beshear said, urging residents to report missing persons. to report.
Cellphones are still not available in some provinces and water systems are overloaded, the governor said. A hospital had no water.
“To everyone in Eastern Kentucky, we will be there for you today and in the weeks, months and years to come. We will get through this together,” Beshear said in a tweet on Saturday.
According to PowerOutage.us, rescue efforts have been hampered by power outages that continued Saturday, leaving more than 13,000 homes and businesses in the dark.
Massive flooding washed away homes in several provinces, causing some residents to climb to their rooftops to escape the deadly floods.
Officials believe thousands have been affected by the storms, and efforts to rebuild some areas could take years, the governor said Friday.
“It’s devastating for us, especially after seven and a half months ago, the western part of our state went through the worst tornado disaster we’ve ever seen,” Beshear told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, referring to a string of tornadoes that ruptured. by Kentucky in December and left 74 people dead.
Hazard mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini told CNN’s Pamela Brown Saturday “we have a team of coroners here working in the three-county area with cadaver dogs just trying to find people and identify people.”
Mobelini added that his talks with officials in Perry, Breathitt and Knott counties lead him to believe the final figure will be much higher than the official death toll of 25.
“It’s more than 30 in total for just our three provinces, and I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg, honestly,” Mobelini said.
The mayor said the city’s water treatment plant is completely offline, with more than 20,000 residents relying entirely on bottled water shipments. And even after the floods have receded, many will not be able to rebuild.
Couple stays in car and promises to help clean up
Clay Nickles and his wife, McKenzie, spoke to CNN from their car on Saturday after their home in the town of Neon, Letcher County, was damaged two days ago.
“Our entire family has been counted so far, but we have neighbors who haven’t,” said Clay Nickles.
Nickles described Neon as a close-knit community, “like Mayberry with Andy Griffith.”
“Everyone, whether they are family or not, is like family,” he said. “In an event like this, when one or two people are destroyed, everyone usually helps. Everyone is devastated in this situation.”
Nickles said they will leave their car later to help clean up.
“This is hard, but we will get through this,” Nickles said.
“These people were fighters and mountain people had a lot of heart.”
Deaths have been reported in Knott, Perry, Letcher and Clay counties. Fourteen people, including four children, were confirmed dead in Knott County Friday afternoon, according to the county coroner.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the numbers factor into the state’s total death toll.
The four children were siblings, according to their aunt Brandi Smith, who said the family’s mobile home was inundated by flooding and forced the family to rush to the roof for safety.
She added that her sister, Amber, and her partner tried to save their children but were unsuccessful.
“They held them. The water got so strong it just washed them away,” Smith told CNN.
Eastern Kentucky is expected to get some relief from heavy rain Saturday. There is a chance of rain from Sunday to Monday, according to the Weather Prediction Center there is a small risk of excessive rain in the region.
Affected areas may include eastern Tennessee and along the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The town of Hazard in southeastern Kentucky had seven of the nine bridges impassable, an “unprecedented” number, Mobelini said Friday morning.
Among the swept away buildings was a two-story church, Pastor Peter Youmans told CNN.
“All you see are bits of cement,” Youmans said of his Davidson Baptist Church, and he witnessed flooding that also wiped out a house nearby.
“It started raining so hard it was clearly coming into the parking lot,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
“And then it came to our house. Then I knew it was very bad, because it has never been in our house. It was about a foot.’
A small creek in front of Youmans’ home is about 8 or 10 feet wide and normally less than 6 inches deep, but during the flood, trailers moved along the creek, he said.
Parishioners would normally help the church during a time like this, but they “take care of their own problems now,” he noted.
“And some of them are in as bad or worse shape than we are,” he said.
“We’re just thankful the house wasn’t destroyed with my grandchildren in it.”
I’m still a little traumatized’
Meanwhile, in Perry County, Joseph Palumbo struggles to reach his home after another house washed up on a road along the way, blocking access.
“We’re walking to the end of our driveway and a whole double-wide trailer has crashed into our bridge,” Palumbo told CNN on Friday. The trailer had been standing across Highway 28 from his own home for decades, he said.
“I’m still a little traumatized because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Palumbo said.
And because the trailer ended up on a bridge over a creek, he and his girlfriend, Danielle Langdon, can’t walk around it.
“We’re climbing a ladder, scaling over a tin roof, mud everywhere,” Palumbo said.
“The first day we slide over the tin roof to get to the other side.”
The resident of the destroyed home was not inside at the time of the flood and was unharmed by the storm.
“I have friends I haven’t seen in years who reach out to me,” Palumbo said.
Sydney icon disappears under a thick blanket of fog
“It is heartwarming to see how people help each other.”