Devastating floods in Kentucky killed 25 people and the death toll is expected to rise, the southern U.S. state’s governor said Saturday as rescue workers continued their search for survivors.
Torrential rain earlier this week caused unprecedented flash flooding in eastern Kentucky, a mountainous region already badly hit by abject poverty as the coal industry, which was the heart of its economy, declines.
“We have some tough news to share today from eastern Kentucky where we are still in the search and rescue phase. Our death toll has risen to 25 lost and that number is likely to rise,” Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted.
“To everyone in eastern Kentucky, we will be here for you today and in the weeks, months and years to come. We will get through this together,” he added.
Beshear previously said hundreds of people had been rescued by boat since the floods began Wednesday night, while National Guard helicopters conducted dozens of air rescues.
But “there are still so many people who are missing and in that area it’s going to be a tough task to get a firm number,” he told CNN on Saturday.
Some areas in eastern Kentucky had reported more than eight inches of rain in 24 hours.
The water level of the North Fork of the Kentucky River near Whitesburg rose to a staggering 20 feet in a matter of hours, well above its previous record of 14.7 feet.
– More rain ahead –
The floods turned many streets into rivers, and some houses in low-lying areas were almost completely submerged, leaving only their roofs visible.
The weather offered respite on Saturday, but more rain was expected for the following day.
“As a cold front moves south, the area will remain mostly dry to this day. The dry weather is expected to end Sunday afternoon when a boundary lifts back north into the region,” the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Kentucky tweeted.
Beshear said on CNN that the upcoming rain is challenging and “while we don’t think it will be historic rain, it will be difficult.”
The floods in eastern Kentucky are the latest in a series of extreme weather events that scientists say are a dead giveaway of climate change.
Nearly 60 people were killed by a tornado in western Kentucky in December 2021 — a disaster Beshear said offers lessons for current efforts at the other end of the state.
“We learned many lessons about these devastating tornadoes in western Kentucky about seven months ago, so we’re providing as much assistance as we can and we’re rushing to help quickly from across the state,” he said.
President Joe Biden has issued a disaster declaration for the Kentucky floods, allowing federal assistance to complement state and local recovery efforts.
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