Kentucky death toll rises to 26 amid fresh flood threat

HINDMAN, Ky. (AP) — The death toll from massive flooding in Kentucky rose to 26 on Sunday and several dozen people are still missing amid the threat of more heavy rain.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll rose by one as of Saturday from last week’s storms.

Beshear said the number will likely rise significantly and it could take weeks to find all the victims. Up to 37 people are missing, according to a daily update from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Additionally, more flash flooding was possible in parts of Appalachia on Sunday and Monday as the latest storms move through, the National Weather Service said. Rainfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour were possible in some of the same areas that flooded last week.

A dozen shelters were open for flood victims in Kentucky with 388 occupants Sunday, according to FEMA.

At a news conference in Knott County, Beshear praised the quick arrival of FEMA tow trucks but noted several challenges to the recovery, including the threat of more rain and flooding and damage to critical infrastructure.

“We have dozens of bridges that are out – making it difficult for people to get to, making it difficult to get water to people,” he said. “We have entire water systems down and we’re working hard to get up.”

Beshear said it will remain difficult, even a week from now, to “have a firm number of those who are counted. It’s communication issues — there’s also not necessarily, in some of these areas, a firm number of people who they lived there first.”

Among the survival stories that continue to emerge, a 17-year-old girl whose Whitesburg home flooded Thursday put her dog in a plastic container and swam 70 meters to safety on a neighbor’s roof. Chloe Adams waited hours until daylight before a relative arrived in a kayak and took them to safety, first taking her dog, Sandy, and then the teenager.

“My daughter is safe and secure tonight,” her father, Terry Adams, said in a Facebook post. “We lost everything today…everything but what matters most.”

On an overcast morning in downtown Hindman, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Louisville, a crew cleared debris that had piled up along storefronts. Nearby, a vehicle was perched upside down in Troublesome Creek, now back on its trash-strewn banks.

Workers toiled relentlessly through mud-filled sidewalks and streets.

“We’ll be here unless there’s a flood,” said Tom Jackson, who is among the workers.

Jackson was with a crew from Corbin, Kentucky, where he is the city’s recycling director, about a two-hour drive from Hindman.

His crew worked all day Saturday and the mud and debris was so thick they were able to clear an eighth of a mile of the road. The water had rushed down the hillsides with such force that it bent the signs.

“I’ve never seen water like this,” Jackson said.

Attendance was thin for the Sunday morning service at Hindman’s First Baptist Church. Parishioners who rarely miss a service were returning home to clean up their duties caused by flooding and mud.

“We’ve already had all kinds of people let us know they can’t even be here today because of their condition,” Pastor Mike Caudill said.

His church has stepped in to help the struggling community, serving meals and setting up tents for people to pick up cleaning and personal hygiene items.

The ordeal is especially difficult for those who have not heard from loved ones since flash floods hit the area.

“We have people hoping and praying that the reason their loved one hasn’t contacted them is because they don’t have cell service,” Caudill said.

Asked what he says to people struggling because their homes and communities have been destroyed by the floods, he said: “I say we know we live in a troubled world. There are storms somewhere every day. There is disruption all the time. But that’s no excuse for not showing up and being there to make a difference.”

In Knott County, where it rained intermittently Sunday, bags full of clothes and photos were piled on the front porch of retired teacher Teresa Perry Reynolds, along with furniture that was too damaged to save.

“There are memories there,” she said of the family photos she and her husband were able to find. As she chatted on the side of the road next to her waterlogged home, someone stopped and asked her if she was okay. She responded by repeating her faith in God.

She and her husband, a retired school principal, would have taken shelter in their 44-foot travel trailer, but it was overwhelmed by floodwaters. They found her husband’s wallet after searching for a day and a half. He stayed behind as they escaped the rapidly rising water and went to a neighbor’s house.

“All I know is that I’m homeless and I have people taking care of me,” she said.

The rain stopped early Friday after parts of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches (20-27 cm) over a 48-hour period. About 13,000 utility customers in Kentucky remained without power Sunday, poweroutage.us reported.

President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties.

Last week’s flooding extended into West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six southern counties, and into Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration that allowed officials to mobilize resources in the flooded Southwest her condition.

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Raby reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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