‘Damage like I’ve never seen before.’ Water recedes, death toll rises to 19 in Eastern Kentucky floods | Region | starbeacon.com

2022-07-29 20:28:46 By : Ms. Tracy Zhang

Partly cloudy skies. Low 62F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph..

Partly cloudy skies. Low 62F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The death toll from devastating flooding in Eastern Kentucky rose to 19 as of midday Friday. Some people were still missing even as the water receded and residents across the region continued the weary tasks of trying to salvage belongings and clean thick mud from their homes, or look for new places to live.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 16 deaths Friday at a midmorning news conference. Knott County was hit hardest, he said, with 11 deaths, with two fatalities each in Letcher and Clay counties and one in Perry County, Beshear said.

However, the Knott County coroner later confirmed three more deaths there, bringing the county total to 14 and the overall state total to 19.

The fact that people were still missing raised the grim potential there will be more deaths. Beshear said the number of fatalities is “gonna get a lot higher.”

“This isn’t over. While we are doing search and rescue, there are still real dangers out there,” Beshear said, noting that flooding has not crested in some places and more rainfall is forecast for early next week.

Jeff Combs, emergency manager for Knott County, said six people whose homes were swept away during the intense storms early Thursday were still missing Friday about 1 p.m..

There had been 18 people missing at one point, but Combs said before Beshear’s news conference that some had been found.

Friday morning, firefighters, rescue-squad members, troops from the Kentucky National Guard and volunteers were searching for people in wrecked houses and along streams where the water had gone down.

“It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Damage like I’ve never seen before,” Combs said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Combs said it would take weeks to assess all the damage.

The flooding happened early Thursday when storms dumped several inches of rain in just a few hours, inundating small streams in narrow valleys and hollers and forcing them out of their banks.

The muddy water knocked mobile homes off their foundations, swept away cars and pickup trucks, pushed over utility poles, buckled roads and washed out bridges. Slides off steep hillsides blocked roads and hit some houses.

The water rose so quickly that some people couldn’t get out of their homes. Some sought shelter on upper floors or the roof, and some who tried to leave were swept away by swift water held desperately to whatever they could grab while waiting for rescue.

Some roads around the region remained blocked by high water, debris or rocks and mud Friday, and some places were inaccessible because of washed-out bridges.

Beshear said that a total of 337 people were in shelters Friday morning.

The American Red Cross had four shelters open and other groups were running the others.

The state also designated shelters at the Jenny Wiley, Pine Mountain and Buckhorn state parks, but Buckhorn, in Perry County, had no power.

“It’s a struggle to get to it right now, and we don’t have power, but we’re going to get it up and running, “ Beshear said. “We know there’s a lot of citizens of that county who need help.”

Beshear said 294 people had to be rescued from high water, more than 100 of them through air operations by the Kentucky Air National Guard and Kentucky State Police.

Units from Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee were still in the air Friday, and responders were using 20 high-axle military vehicles to take people to shelters..

Beshear choked up recounting a conversation he had with Kathy Stewart O’Nan, the mayor of Mayfield, which was pummeled by tornadoes last December.

Beshear said O’Nan told him the city fire chief, Jeremy Creason, was headed to Eastern Kentucky with an ambulance and some equipment to help.

“And what they wanted to pass along is, this commonwealth was there for them when they were hit by the unimaginable. And they’re going to be there for the people of Eastern Kentucky who are facing the same,” Beshear said.

David Watson, the emergency manager in Clay County, said the body of one man who died there was found several hundred feet from his home. Officials hadn’t yet been able to reach the house, so the details of his death, such as whether he was swept away while trying to get to safety, weren’t clear, Watson said.

The other person who died in the county was a woman whose body was found in her inundated home.

Flash flooding from heavy rainfall consumed Eastern Kentucky counties of Breathitt, Floyd, Perry, Knott, Leslie, Pike and Magoffin July 28, 2022, taking at least three lives, trapping others in homes and buildings, and sending thousands to shelters.By Ryan C. Hermens

Watson said the flooding was worst in the Oneida area, along Bullskin Creek. It rained 7 inches in three hours early Thursday, he said.

There were no people unaccounted for in the county, but officials hadn’t been able to get to every home yet. Firefighters and others were going door to door to check on people Friday, but some roads were still inaccessible, Watson said.

He estimated 50 to 75 houses were flooded.

President Joe Biden quickly approved a disaster declaration for the state on Friday.

In Hazard, the floodwater started to recede Friday morning, local officials said in social media posts.

The flood damaged some businesses downtown and there were “lots of homes still without water or gas” Friday morning, according to a Twitter post.

Officials said 94 people had been in two different shelters in town, 14 at West Perry Elementary School and 80 at Gospel Light Baptist Church.

“Thanks to all those working around the clock. Our prayers to our sister cities who are still underwater,” officials said on Twitter. “God Bless you all.”

Jerry Stacy, the emergency manager for Perry County, said hundreds of people were evacuated along in the Troublesome Creek area between midnight Wednesday and 10 a.m. Thursday.

Stacy said first responders are still searching for between 6 and 10 people.

“There are areas we can’t even get to yet,” Stacy said.

Complicating search and rescue efforts is downed communications. Many cell phones and landlines are down throughout Eastern Kentucky, Stacy said.

“There is no communication in the hardest hit areas,” Stacy said. ”No internet. No electric. No gas. No phone.”

Another problem is that dozens of bridges on county roads have been destroyed, he said.

Stacy said the number of people made homeless by the flooding will likely top 100.

“Homes and trailers are just completely gone,” Stacy said. “The worst that you can possibly imagine . . . this is worse. I’ve lived on Troublesome Creek my whole life —54 years —and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“The governor is right. It will take years to recover,” Stacy said.

‘I’m just scared here now’

State Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, in Letcher County, said in a Facebook post Friday that supplies were running low at the Letcher County Central High School where people had sought shelter.

“We desperately need water, cleaning supplies, non-perishable food items. All donations welcome,” Hatton wrote.

Megan Stepp, 24, said Friday that while the Eastern Kentucky mountains are a beautiful place to live, she wants to leave because of the flood.

“I’m just scared here now. You feel traumatized, honestly,” said Stepp, who lives in a community called Dwarf.

Stepp said during the flooding she was pinned between bloated creeks and mudslides, waiting in her small Fiat car for the water to recede.

When she moved to Dwarf a couple years ago, in a renovated home overlooking Combs Branch, elderly neighbors who had lived there for decades told her it had never flooded there.

She started gathering belongings to leave Thursday morning as the flood mounted, but noticed the water had already reached the second step on the stairs to the basement.

The wood underneath started creaking, and she had just enough time to shepherd her four pets out of the house and into her tiny car.

Friday, as Stepp, her mother and some friends were trying to get a handle on the damage — whether a desktop computer could be salvaged, if it was worth trying to get the brown stain out of rug — her husband, Adrian Stepp, got some bad news.

In talking with their insurance agent, he learned none of their personal property was covered.

“Alright guys, you’ve gotta get everything out of the house,” he said. “I didn’t know I didn’t have any property coverage. Personal belongings, everything in the house, is a loss.”

Next door, Michelle Reed, 39, and her son Gabe, who is 15, were picking through their flooded brick house to see what they could save.

The night of the flood, Gabe, who is autistic, fell asleep in his mother’s room. That turned out to be fortunate; the two were awakened by the sound of the back of their house, where Gabe’s bedroom is located, collapsing into Combs Creek as the flood undermined the structure.

When she called 911, “they literally told me they would pray for us because there’s nothing they could do,” Reed said.

“What I remember most is feeling completely alone,” Reed said.

Reed said her house and personal property were not insured. She hopes that people without insurance will have options to rebuild.

Blocked roads delay restoring power

Kentucky Power, the main electricity provider in Eastern Kentucky, said 21,000 customers remained without power Friday morning, with blocked roads slowing work to get customers back online.

Most of the outages were in Breathitt, Leslie, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties, the utility said.

Workers were using drones to assess damage to power lines and more crews were scheduled to come to Kentucky Friday to help with the work, but the utility did not provide an estimate on when power would be restored to everyone.

There are likely a high number of single-outage cases at individual homes which will take time to fix.

The focus will be on restoring power first to facilities such as hospitals, emergency services and public buildings, as well as larger blocks of customers, Kentucky Power said.

The intense flooding had raised questions for some on the safety of dams in the region, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the dams it operates were structurally sound and operating as intended.

The Corps has dams at Buckhorn, Carr Creek, Fishtrap, Dewey and Paintsville lake in the affected area.

As bad as the flooding was, the Corps said in news releases that the lakes had held back water and prevented it from being worse.

Beshear said the victims from Knott County included two children, a 63-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. An additional two children were also found dead in Knott County following Beshear’s press conference.

The four children have been identified as Maddison Noble, 8, Riley Noble Jr., 6, Nevaeh Noble, 4, and Chance Noble, 1 1/2, a relative told the Herald-Leader. The victims were swept away from their parents in the flood on Thursday. The mother and father, Amber Smith and Riley Noble, were found alive

In Montgomery, Brittany Trejo said that her four young cousins were swept from their parents’ grip in flooding Thursday.

By 12:30 p.m. Friday, the bodies of all four children had been recovered from the Knott County community of Montgomery, Trejo said. Kentucky State Police spokesman Shane Goodall confirmed a report of four missing children Thursday night but said he didn’t immediately have details.

Trejo said that the home of Smith and Noble in the Montgomery community filled with water Thursday.

“They got on the roof and the entire underneath washed out with them and the children. They managed to get to a tree and ... held the children a few hours before a big tide came and wash them all away at the same time,” Trejo said.

“The mother and father was stranded in the tree for 8 hours before anyone got there to help,” said Trejo.

Kentucky State Police spokesman Shane Goodall said it’s pretty much impossible to have an exact count at this point due to many missing people, but more deaths are expected once the floodwaters recede.

Police were still rescuing people with helicopters in places no one can get to, Goodall continued.

(Herald-Leader staff writers John Cheves and Beth Musgrave contributed to this story.)

©2022 Lexington Herald-Leader. Visit at kentucky.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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