The death toll from severe flooding in eastern Kentucky has risen to 28 people, including several children, and the governor said more fatalities are expected as search-and-rescue teams go door-to-door in the Appalachian foothills to assess the damage.
“We are still focused on meeting the immediate needs of providing food, water and shelter for thousands of our fellow Kentuckians who have been displaced by this catastrophic flood,” he said in the release. “At the same time, we have started on the long road to eventual recovery.”
Earlier Sunday, Beshear said that rescue crews were continuing to search for survivors as the rain resumed and that authorities had unconfirmed reports of additional deaths.
Because of hazardous conditions such as downed power lines, as well as spotty cellphone service, he said some affected areas are inaccessible and the state doesn’t have a “firm grasp” on the number of missing.
“With the level of water, we’re going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe a quarter-mile-plus from where they were lost,” Beshear told NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader put the death toll at 33 on Sunday night, based on reports of additional deaths from two county coroners’ offices.
In some families, everyone in their household perished, the governor said. The state was doubling the National Guard to search for victims, he said.
Among the most tragic stories has been the death of four siblings who had clambered onto their roof to escape rising floodwaters. After the roof collapsed, the family clung to tree branches, according to an account in the Herald-Leader. A swell of water swept the children away.
The disaster has led to flash flooding, landslides and mudslides. The storms displaced hundreds of residents and caused “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damage, the governor said in a YouTube video posted Sunday. He has said it could take years to rebuild in the region. Kentucky Power reported on Twitter that as of midday Sunday, power had been restored to about 50 percent of customers who had lost it.
According to the news release Sunday evening, 359 survivors are being temporarily sheltered at 15 shelters and at two state parks and campgrounds.
The Kentucky floods were caused by 1-in-1,000-year rainstorms that scientists say are emblematic of the type of extreme weather that will become more common as the Earth warms.
On “Meet the Press,” Beshear addressed the extreme weather — including an unusual spate of tornadoes in December that devastated parts of Kentucky and other states — and said officials must ensure that the state’s “roads, our bridges, our culverts, our flood walls can withstand greater intensity.”
Rural water and wastewater systems are easily overwhelmed, he said, and upgrading their infrastructure is “so expensive.” He said the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed last year were a “good start” and allowed the state to afford improvements “that we haven’t been able to do before.”
“But if we truly want to be more resilient, it is going to take a major federal investment as well as here in the state,” Beshear said.
The National Weather Service is predicting several rounds of showers and storms for the area from Sunday through Tuesday, with flash flooding possible. A “brief dry period” is expected Wednesday, but Thursday could bring more rain.
Beshear urged residents to take precautions.
“Next couple days are going to be hard,” he said in the YouTube video. “We’ve got rain and maybe even a lot of rain that’s going to hit the same areas. Please pray for the people in these areas, and if you are in the areas that are going to get hit by rain, make sure you stay safe. Make sure you have a place that is higher ground. Go to a shelter.”