JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — Torrential rains triggered devastating flooding in Appalachia Thursday, as rapidly rising waters killed at least eight people in Kentucky and sent people scrambling to rooftops for rescue.
Water gushed from hills and overflowed stream beds, flooding homes, businesses and roads throughout eastern Kentucky. Parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia also experienced significant flooding. Rescue teams used helicopters and boats to retrieve people trapped by the floodwaters.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted late Thursday that the state’s death toll from flooding had risen to eight. He asked for continued prayers for the region, which was preparing for more rain.
“In a nutshell, this event is devastating,” Beshear said earlier today. “And I believe this is going to end up being one of the biggest and deadliest floods we’ve had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.”
In Breathitt County, Kentucky, Krystal Holbrook’s family raced against rising floodwaters early in the morning to move their possessions to higher ground. Their ordeal began around 4 a.m. Thursday as they rushed through the darkness to move vehicles, RVs, trailers and farm equipment. But as the water continued to rise throughout the day, the concern was that “the higher ground would get a little tricky,” she said.
“It looks like a huge lake here,” she said.
Beshear warned property damage in Kentucky would be widespread. The governor said officials were setting up a site for donations that would go to residents affected by the flooding.
Hazardous conditions and continued rainfall hampered rescue efforts Thursday, the governor said.
“We have a lot of people who need help that we can’t reach right now,” Beshear said. “We will do it.”
Flash flooding and mudslides were reported in the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southern West Virginia, where thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain over the past last days.
With more rain expected in the region, the National Weather Service said additional flooding was possible Friday across much of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Forecasters said the greatest threat of flash flooding is expected to move further east into West Virginia.
Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without power in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.
“There are a lot of people in Eastern Kentucky on the rooftops waiting to be rescued,” Beshear said earlier Thursday. “There are a number of people missing and I’m pretty sure this is a situation where we’re going to lose some of them.”
Rescue crews worked through the night to help people stranded by rising waters in Perry County, eastern Kentucky, where Emergency Management Director Jerry Stacy called it a ” “catastrophic event”.
“We’re just in rescue mode right now,” Stacy said, speaking to The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach Hazard’s office. “Extreme flash floods and mudslides are everywhere.”
The storms have battered a mountainous region of Appalachia where communities and homes are perched on steep hills or deep in the hollows between them where streams and creeks can rush uphill. But this one is far worse than a typical flood, said Stacy, 54.
“I’ve lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by far the worst event I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Roads in many areas were not passable after up to 15 centimeters of rain fell in some areas Thursday, and another 1 to 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) could fall, the National Weather Service said.
Beshear said he has deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest hit areas and three parks in the area have been opened to house displaced people.
The Breathitt County Courthouse was opened overnight in Kentucky, and Emergency Management Director Chris Friley said the former Montessori school will provide more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.
Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed away roads and bridges and knocked homes off their foundations. The City of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night, urging people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break in the rain”.
In Greenbrier County, West Virginia, firefighters pulled people from flooded homes and five campers who were stranded by high water in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department , reported WCHS-TV.
Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six West Virginia counties after severe thunderstorms this week caused extensive local flooding, downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.
Communities in southwestern Virginia were also inundated, and the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va., warned Thursday of further downpours and storms.
Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Md., contributed to this report.