US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden travelled to Kentucky to meet with families and view damage from storms that have resulted in the worst flooding in Kentucky’s history.
At least 37 people have died since last month’s deluge, which dropped 8 to 10.5 inches (200 to 270mm) of rain in 48 hours. The National Weather Service said Sunday that flooding remains a threat, warning of more thunderstorms through Thursday.
The Bidens were greeted by Governor Andy Beshear and his wife, Britainy, when they arrived in eastern Kentucky. They drove to see devastation from the storms in Breathitt County, stopping at the site where a school bus, carried by floodwaters, crashed into a partially-collapsed building.
Attending a briefing on the flooding’s impact with first responders and recovery specialists at Marie Roberts-Caney Elementary School in Lost Creek, Biden pledged the continued support of the federal government.
“We’re not leaving,” he said. “As long as it takes, we’re going to be here.”
Biden emphasised that politics have no place in disaster response, noting his frequent political battles with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We battle all the times on issues,” Biden said, but in helping Kentuckians rebuild: “We’re all one team.”
The Bidens were later scheduled to tour another hard-hit community in the state and meet directly with those affected.
Monday’s visit is Biden’s second to the state since taking office last year. He previously visited in December after tornadoes whipped through Kentucky, killing 77 people and leaving a trail of destruction.
“I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky,” Beshear said immediately following the floods in late July. “I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything. I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can. These are our people. Let’s make sure we help them out.”
Biden has expanded federal disaster assistance to Kentucky, ensuring the federal government will cover the full cost of debris removal and other emergency measures.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $3.1m in relief funds, and hundreds of rescue personnel have been deployed to help, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
“The floods in Kentucky and extreme weather all around the country are yet another reminder of the intensifying and accelerating impacts of climate change and the urgent need to invest in making our communities more resilient to it,” Jean-Pierre said.
On August 1, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the federal government would make over $1bn in grants available to states coping with the effects of extreme heat and flooding, spurred on by climate change.
The US Senate on Sunday passed Biden’s massive $740bn Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $370bn for renewable energy and climate projects, including a plan to cut US emissions 40 percent by 2030.
Last week, Kentucky was hit by a heatwave that brought additional misery to those struggling to recover from the flooding. The National Guard has helped to distribute bottled water throughout the state, with water systems still out of order in some impacted areas.
The flooding came just one month after Beshear visited Mayfield to celebrate the completion of the first houses to be fully constructed since a tornado nearly wiped out the town. Three families were handed keys to their new homes that day, and the governor in his remarks hearkened back to a visit he had made in the immediate aftermath.
“I pledged on that day that while we had been knocked down, we were not knocked out,” Beshear said. “That we would get back up again and we would move forward. And six months to the day, we’re not just up, we’re not just standing on our feet, we are moving forward.”
Now more disasters are testing the state. Beshear has been to eastern Kentucky as many times as weather permitted since the flooding began. He’s had daily news conferences stretching an hour to provide details including a full range of assistance for victims. Much like after the tornadoes, Beshear opened relief funds going directly to people in the beleaguered regions.
Yesterday we received news that under @POTUS’s order, the federal government will cover 100% of the cost of certain emergency services for Eastern Kentucky cities and counties for a continuous 30 day period. This is good news and will be a big help. 1/4
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) August 7, 2022
A Democrat, Beshear narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2019, and he’s seeking a second term in 2023.
Polling has consistently shown him with strong approval ratings from Kentuckians. But several prominent Republicans have entered the governor’s race, taking turns pounding the governor for his aggressive coronavirus pandemic response and trying to tie him to Biden and rising inflation.
Beshear comments frequently about the toll surging inflation is taking in eating at Kentuckians’ budgets. He avoids blaming Biden, instead pointing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply-chain bottlenecks as contributors to rising consumer costs.