“There are going to be a lot of people out there that need our help,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Frankfurt. “Unfortunately, I expect double-digit deaths in this flooding.”
Additional rainfall amounts of over an inch are expected through Friday evening. “We’re watching pretty close and it’s not going to take too much to cause some additional flooding issues,” Dustin Jordan, of the weather service office in Jackson, told CNN.
The rains have caused untold damage to homes in the state’s slice of central Appalachia and forced some residents to the roofs of their swamped homes to await rescue, the governor said.
“Hundreds will lose their homes, and this is going to be yet another event (where) it’s going to take not months, but likely years, for many families to rebuild and recover,” Beshear said in an earlier news conference Thursday morning.
Beshear activated the National Guard to help with rescues and recovery and declared an emergency to expedite resources to help, he said.
The Guard has identified people stuck on roofs and was “making preparations to go in and withdraw them,” the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton, said at morning news conference, without detailing where these people were.
Video from various locations showed floodwater covering roads and swallowing portions of homes and vehicles.
Barbara Wicker was worried about relatives in Hindman, including five grandchildren, because water had surrounded their homes, she told Clement in a predawn interview.
“I can’t reach them. I can’t reach 911. … There’s no help in sight,” Wicker told Clement outdoors in Hindman, a Knott County town roughly a 130-mile drive southeast of Lexington.
“That goes way up in there — everybody’s stuck,” Hindman resident Kendra Bentley, also standing near a road outside, told Clement about floodwater surrounding homes.
The weather is expected to improve over the weekend. “We should see dry weather start to move back into the area as we move into Saturday for most locations,” the weather service’s Jordan said.
Deaths in at least two counties
Of the three who died as a result of the flooding, at least one died in Perry County, and one in Knott County, Beshear said.
Another was an 81-year-old woman who was a native of Perry County, the governor said, without saying where she died.
The Perry County coroner’s office said it knew of at least one death there Thursday morning — that of an 82-year-old woman whose body was found in Coneva after she was reported missing.
It was not clear whether her death was included in the governor’s tally of three.
Authorities had to travel half a mile by boat, and walk about a mile by foot, to reach her, said Jeffrey Combs, Perry County’s chief deputy coroner
Many of the roads in the county are inaccessible, said Combs, who did not release the woman’s name.
Region suffers outages of power and water service
The National Guard was deploying helicopters and trucks that can move through water to deliver supplies and transport people, and Beshear also declared an emergency to help unlock other resources, he said. Fish and wildlife workers were “out with boats, working to make water rescues where safe for their personnel,” he said.
Rescue areas included a school in Breathitt County, where a couple of staff members were stranded in an otherwise empty building, Beshear said. The Guard was preparing to rescue them, Lamberton said Thursday morning.
Water service also was interrupted in parts of eastern Kentucky Thursday, in part because pipes burst in flooding events and systems need to be shut down for repairs, Beshear said. Truckloads of water were being sent to the region, he said.
Three state parks will be available to shelter people who lost their homes, Beshear said.
More flooding is possible Thursday especially in parts of eastern Kentucky — where another 1 to 3 inches are possible during the day — southern West Virginia and far southwest Virginia, the weather service said.
‘Please stay off the roads’
In the Breathitt County community of Jackson, floodwater swiftly ran past a home in Thursday’s predawn darkness, carrying a trash can and other debris with it, video recorded by Deric Lostutter showed.
“Many roads in the county are becoming covered with water and are impassable. Please stay off the roads if at all possible tonight,” the post said.
Swollen rivers and creeks in the region spilled over the land.
The gauge there was reading 20.91 feet at 10 am Thursday; the previous record was 14.7 feet, set on January 29, 1957. The data is preliminary and will need to be reviewed, because items can become stuck to the gauge and give false readings during major flooding.
‘Seemingly never-ending fire hose’ of moisture across much of US
Recent rain, with more coming, makes additional flash flooding likely in parts of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys and central Appalachians over the next two days, the prediction center said.
CNN’s Dave Hennen, Payton Major, Chris Boyette, Monica Garrett, Sara Smart and Judson Jones contributed to this report