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More rain, more bodies in flooded Kentucky mountain towns

At least 35 people have already been killed amid the rising water, and hundreds of others remain unaccounted for, officials say.
In this aerial image, the river is still high around the homes in Breathitt County, Ky., on Saturday.  Another round of rainstorms hit flooded Kentucky mountain communities Monday as more bodies emerged from the sodden landscape, and the governor warned that high winds could bring another threat — falling trees and utility poles.
In this aerial image, the river is still high around the homes in Breathitt County, Ky., on Saturday. Another round of rainstorms hit flooded Kentucky mountain communities Monday as more bodies emerged from the sodden landscape, and the governor warned that high winds could bring another threat — falling trees and utility poles. [ MICHAEL CLEVENGER | AP ]
Published Aug. 1

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Another round of rainstorms hit flooded Kentucky mountain communities Monday as more bodies emerged from the sodden landscape, and the governor warned that high winds could bring another threat — falling trees and utility poles.

Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll rose to 35, and hundreds of people remained unaccounted for five days after one of the nation’s poorest regions was swamped by nearly a foot of rain. The water poured down hillsides and into valleys and hollows, engulfing entire towns. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.

Radar indicated that up to 4 more inches (10.2 centimeters) of rain fell Sunday, and the National Weather Service warned that slow-moving showers and thunderstorms could provoke more flash flooding through Tuesday morning.

“If things weren’t hard enough on the people of this region, they’re getting rain right now,” Beshear said Monday at the Capitol in Frankfort. “Just as concerning is high winds — think about how saturated the ground has been — it could knock over poles, it could knock over trees. So people need to be careful.”

An approaching heat wave means “it’s even going to get tougher when the rain stops,” the governor said. “It’s going to get really hot, and we need to make sure people are ultimately stable by that point.”

Members of the Lexington Fire Department look through the wreckage of a home while operating as search and rescue units along KY-476 along Troublesome Creek in Breathitt County, Ky., Sunday.
Members of the Lexington Fire Department look through the wreckage of a home while operating as search and rescue units along KY-476 along Troublesome Creek in Breathitt County, Ky., Sunday. [ SILAS WALKER | Lexington Herald-Leader ]

More than 12,000 customers remained without power, many because their homes and businesses have been destroyed or are unfit for habitation. At least 300 people were staying in shelters.

The floods were unleashed last week when 8 to 10½ inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.

The disaster was the latest in a string of catastrophic deluges that have pounded parts of the U.S. this summer, including St. Louis. Scientists warn that climate change is making such events more common.

The floodwaters also swept away some of the region’s irreplaceable history. Appalshop, a cultural center known for chronicling Appalachian life, was assessing extensive damage at its repository, where historic documents and artifacts were flushed out of the building.

While touring the disaster area Sunday, Beshear said he saw how people have been helping their neighbors.

“These are amazing folks. They’re hurting, but they’re strong. And it’s amazing to see them helping each other, even when they’ve got nothing left,” he said.

"This is the most devastating and deadly flooding event in my lifetime," Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference at the Perry County Courthouse Sunday.
"This is the most devastating and deadly flooding event in my lifetime," Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference at the Perry County Courthouse Sunday. [ SILAS WALKER | Lexington Herald-Leader ]

About 400 people have been rescued by helicopter, according to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau.

“In light of the devastation, the response is going pretty well,” he said Sunday.

The governor canceled a trip to Israel that was scheduled for later this week, saying he could not travel overseas “while the people of eastern Kentucky are suffering.”

Meanwhile, nighttime curfews were declared in response to reports of looting in two of the devastated communities — Breathitt County and the nearby city of Hindman in Knott County.

Breathitt County declared a countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., County Attorney Brendon Miller said Sunday evening in a Facebook post. The only exceptions were for emergency vehicles, first responders, and people traveling for work.

“I hate to have to impose a curfew, but looting will absolutely not be tolerated. Our friends and neighbors have lost so much. We cannot stand by and allow them to lose what they have left,” the post said.

Breathitt County Sheriff John Hollan said the curfew decision came after 18 reports of looting.

He said people were stealing from private property where homes were damaged. No arrest have been made.

Hindman Mayor Tracy Neice also announced a sunset-to-sunrise curfew because of looting, television station WYMT reported. Both curfews will remain in place until further notice, officials said.

Last week’s flooding extended to West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six southern counties, and to Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin made a similar declaration aimed at mobilizing resources across the southwest portion of the state.

President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to flooded counties, and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were helping with the recovery efforts.

Another relief effort came from the University of Kentucky’s men basketball team, which planned an open practice Tuesday at Rupp Arena and a charity telethon.

Coach John Calipari said players approached him about the idea.

“The team and I are looking forward to doing what we can,” Calipari said.

By REBECCA REYNOLDS, Associated Press.

Associated Press reporters Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Mike Pesoli airborne with the National Guard, Gary B. Graves in Lexington and Julie Walker in New York City contributed to this report.

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