Rescuers search for survivors after deadly floods in Kentucky

29 July 2022, 18:44

Severe Weather Appalachia
Severe Weather Appalachia. Picture: PA

Powerful floodwaters swallowed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys.

Rescue teams backed by the US National Guard are searching for people missing in record floods that have wiped out entire communities in some of the poorest places in America.

Kentucky’s governor said 16 people have died, a toll he expected to rise as the rain keeps falling.

“We’ve still got a lot of searching to do,” said Jerry Stacy, the emergency management director in Kentucky’s hard-hit Perry County. “We still have missing people.”

Pictures of the Week-North America-Photo Gallery
Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter Adelynn Bowling as she watches her property become covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky (Timothy D Easley/AP)

Powerful floodwaters swallowed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys, destroying vehicles and swamping homes and businesses.

Mudslides on steep slopes left many people marooned and without power and made rescues more difficult.

“It is devastating,” governor Andy Beshear told CNN before touring the disaster area.

“The tough news is 16 confirmed fatalities now, and folks that’s going to get a lot higher,” the governor said later.

While floodwaters receded in places after peaking on Thursday, the National Weather Service said flash flooding caused by excessive rainfall remained possible through Friday evening.

“Places where there were mobile homes and houses, there’s nothing there now … It’s unbelievable to see,” Mr Stacy said. ”You get 8in of rain in three hours, it’s just not anything that we have ever seen – ever, here.”

Emergency crews made close to 50 air rescues and hundreds of water rescues on Thursday, and more people still needed help, the governor said.

“This is not only an ongoing disaster but an ongoing search and rescue. The water is not going to crest in some areas until tomorrow.”

Determining the number of people unaccounted for is tough with phone services and electricity out across the disaster area, he said: “This is so widespread, it’s a challenge on even local officials to put that number together.”

More than 200 people have sought shelter, Mr Beshear said.

He deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas.

Three parks set up shelters, and with property damage so extensive, the governor opened an online portal for donations to the victims.

President Joe Biden called to express his support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Mr Beshear said, predicting it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.

The storm sent water gushing from hillsides and surging out of streambeds, inundating roads and forcing rescue crews to use helicopters and boats to reach trapped people.

Flooding also damaged parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia, across a region where poverty is endemic.

“There are hundreds of families that have lost everything,” Mr Beshear said. “And many of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so it hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them.”

The website reported more than 33,000 customers remained without electricity on Friday in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.

By Press Association

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