“We are currently experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history,” Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference Thursday morning.
Beshear later warned that the destruction is far from over as more rainfall is expected Friday. Eastern Kentucky has a slight to moderate risk of flash flooding through Friday evening as an additional one to 3 inches are possible throughout the day, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
Parts of southeastern Kentucky are under a flood warning through early Friday morning as storms move across the already drenched region. A flash flood warning has also been issued for areas near the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, where 1 to 2 inches of rain have already fallen.
An elderly man and woman died after being swept from their homes in the Oneida Community, near Manchester, Kentucky, according to Clay County Coroner Jarrod Becknell. The man was 76 years old and the woman was in her late 60s or early 70s, Deputy Coroner Joe Crockett said.
It is not clear whether the two deaths are included in the statewide toll of eight deaths that Beshear announced earlier Thursday.
On Thursday evening, Kentucky officials recommended that people evacuate the homes and businesses in the floodplain of Panbowl Lake in Jackson, citing the Kentucky River’s rising water level and a “muddy discharge” seen near the lake’s dam. A portion of Kentucky Route 15 was also closed Thursday night.
Parts of West Virginia and western Virginia also experienced severe flooding Thursday and are expected to receive more rainfall Friday. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a statewide emergency declaration, and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for Fayette, Greenbrier, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, according to news releases from the governors’ offices.
Much of West Virginia is in the moderate risk for flash flooding on Friday, according to the Weather Prediction Center. The southwest region of Virginia is also at risk of flooding Friday with between one and two inches of rain possible, and potentially more in some local areas, according to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia.
In a White House briefing Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Deanne Criswell, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will travel to Kentucky Friday to survey the damage and report back to President Joe Biden.
FEMA has also sent rescue personnel and an incident management assistance team to aid in the state’s rescue efforts, she said.
Rescues complicated by widespread water, power outages
As floodwaters rose to dangerous levels, some Kentuckians quickly became trapped and were unable to safely escape. As many as 30 people were air rescued by the National Guard on Thursday, Beshear said.
In Floyd County, approximately 80 people have been rescued since heavy rains began in the area Tuesday, county Judge-Executive Robbie Williams told CNN.
“I’ve never seen this much water before,” Williams said. “I mean it just absolutely poured and we’ve got, you know, some small towns that are completely underwater.”
Widespread water and power outages in the region are hindering recovery efforts, Beshear said Thursday. He noted that the flooding is making it difficult for utility workers to access areas needed to restore power.
The state also has a limited number of helicopters that are capable of hoisting people into the air, the governor said. In an effort to assist the state’s recovery efforts, both West Virginia and Tennessee sent helicopters with hoisting abilities to Kentucky.
West Virginia has also deployed National Guard troops to aid its neighboring state, Gov. Justice announced.
Communities also jumped into action to help their neighbors, including residents in the town of Whitesburg.
“We took kayaks, jet skis, boats, chainsaws and hatchets to every place that we could,” resident Zach Caudill told CNN. Caudill’s home only suffered from a few inches of flooding, but he said several of his neighbors lost their homes completely.
Caudill grabbed bandages, gauze, medicine, menstrual supplies, food, water, and blankets from his home to take to others, he said.
“Everyone was there trying to lend a hand and help. That’s how tight-knit our community is,” Caudill said. “When one of us hurts, we all hurt.”
Kentucky State Police are asking residents of at least eight counties to call them if they have missing family members and to provide information on their loved ones. The counties include Wolfe, Owsley, Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Pike and Perry.
Climate crisis drives more intense flooding
As global temperatures climb, the atmosphere is able to hold more and more water, making water vapor more abundantly available to fall as rain.
Rainfall over land has become more intense since the 1980s, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report’s authors say human influence is the main driver.
CNN’s Angela Fritz, Caitlin Kaiser, Sara Smart, Sharif Paget, Amanda Musa, Claudia Dominguez, Michelle Watson, Caitlyn Kaiser and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.