The death toll in Eastern Kentucky rose to 16, including at least six children, on Friday after torrential rains flooded the region, destroying hundreds of homes and wiping out entire communities across several counties.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll is expected to grow to “probably more than double.”
“We may have even lost entire families,” Beshear said in a video Friday.
Search and rescue teams, with the help of the National Guard, were searching for missing people Friday after record floods washed through the region. The governor declared a state of emergency.
“To all the families that know you’ve already sustained a loss, we’re going to grieve with you,” Beshear said Friday morning at a news briefing. “We’re going to support you and we’re going to be here for you not just today, but tomorrow and in the weeks and in the years to come.”
More rain and storms were expected this weekend after over 6 inches of rain fell Wednesday night into Thursday. Meteorologist Brandon Bonds with the National Weather Service in Jackson said it won’t take much more rain to “cause even more damage.” A flood watch or warning was expected to stay in effect for many of the areas that saw the worst of the flooding.
Here’s what we know:
Beshear said the death toll includes at least six children, including four young siblings who were swept away from their parents in the gushing floodwaters.
“It’s hard,” he said of the deaths. “Keep praying.”
The siblings, who ranged in age from 1 to 8, were the focus of a story by the Lexington Herald-Leader, which reported the children and their parents got to the roof of their home and were forced to climb to a tree as waters rose. Their cousin, Brittany Trejo, told the outlet the parents “held the children a few hours before a big tide came and wash[ed] them all away.”
The parents were rescued about 8 hours later, she told the outlet.
Beshear confirmed the deaths after he and FEMA officials surveilled damage with the Coast Guard in a helicopter Friday afternoon. He said the impacts to Eastern Kentucky were “by far the worst” damage he’d witnessed as governor.
President Joe Biden on Friday declared a major disaster in Kentucky and ordered federal aid to assist the state’s recovery efforts in areas affected by the flooding. Federal funding will be made available to state, local governments and nonprofits for emergency protective measures in 13 counties, according to a statement from the White House.
Deanna Criswell, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, said the disaster declaration will help cover the overtime costs and recovery efforts Kentucky communities are facing right now.
“FEMA has brought in additional search and rescue teams to support the amazing efforts that are already ongoing on the ground,” Criswell said. “If there are additional resources that are needed for these life saving missions, we will continue to bring in those resources.”
In a Friday morning news briefing, Beshear confirmed 16 people had died, including at least two children and an 81-year-old woman.
The victims were in Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties, officials said.
Beshear on Friday morning said the state currently does not have a “reliable number” of people unaccounted for due to communication difficulties and unavailable cell service.
“It’s going to be really challenging in this area to get a good number,” Beshear said.
At least 337 people have sought shelter, Beshear said Friday morning. Crews rescued nearly 300 people by air and boat.
“In a word, this event is devastating, and I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time,” Beshear said Thursday.
While rain was reported in several areas around the state, the flooding took place in Eastern Kentucky, in counties near the border with Virginia and West Virginia. As of Friday morning, more than 23,000 Kentuckians were without power and several counties didn’t have access to water, Beshear said.
Towns and cities reported having been hit the hardest are Hazard, Jackson, Garrett, Salyersville, Booneville, Whitesburg and the rest of Perry County.
The stretch of the Kentucky River in Jackson reached the highest it has ever been, at 43.2 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Jackson as of 6 a.m. Friday. That mark broke a record set in 1939 when the height of the river reached 43.1 feet.
Beshear asked people who are able to contribute to donate items or funds. Donors should focus on water and cleaning supplies for now.
Organizations have begun to accrue funds needed to send to those families hit hardest by the flooding.