At least 25 people died, including four children, when torrential rains swamped towns across Appalachia, Kentucky’s governor has said.
Governor Andy Beshear said on Saturday that the number would likely rise significantly and it could take weeks to find all the victims of the record flash flooding.
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“This is an ongoing natural disaster,” Beshear told Fox News. “We are still in search and rescue mode. Thankfully, the rain has stopped. But it’s going to rain more starting Sunday afternoon.”
Rescue crews continue the struggle to get into hard-hit areas, some of them among the poorest places in the United States. Crews have made more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats, the governor said.
Beshear, who flew over parts of the flood-stricken region on Friday, described it as “just total devastation, the likes of which we have never seen”.
“We are committed to a full rebuilding effort to get these folks back on their feet,” Beshear said. “But for now, we’re just praying that we don’t lose anybody else.”
Kentucky received between 20 to 27cm (eight to 10.5 inches) in 48 hours. The weather offered a respite on Saturday, but more rain was expected on Sunday.
“As a cold front drags south, the area will remain mainly dry through today. The dry weather is expected to come to an end Sunday afternoon as a boundary lifts north back into the region,” the National Weather Service’s Jackson, Kentucky office tweeted.
In the tiny community of Wayland, Phillip Michael Caudill was working on Saturday to clean up debris and salvage what he could from the home he shared with his wife and three children. The waters had receded from the house but left a mess behind along with questions about what he and his family will do next.
“We’re just hoping we can get some help,” Caudill, who is staying with his family at Jenny Wiley State Park in a free room, for now, told The Associated Press.
Caudill, a firefighter in the Garrett community, went out on rescues at about 1am (05:00 GMT) on Thursday but had to ask to leave about 3am (07:00 GMT) so he could go home, where waters were rapidly rising.
“That’s what made it so tough for me,” he said. “Here I am, sitting there watching my house become immersed in water and you got people begging for help. And I couldn’t help,” because he was tending to his own family.
The water was up to his knees when he arrived home and he had to wade across the yard and carry two of his kids out to the car.
He could barely shut the door of his SUV as they were leaving.
It’s the latest in a string of catastrophic deluges that have pounded parts of the US this year, including St Louis earlier this week and again on Friday. Scientists have warned climate change is making weather disasters more common.
President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties.
The flooding extended into western Virginia and southern West Virginia.
Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia where the flooding downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaration, enabling officials to mobilise resources across the flooded southwest of the state.
About 18,000 utility customers in Kentucky remained without power early Saturday, poweroutage.us reported.