The death toll from floods that hit eastern Kentucky this week has risen to 25, and it is likely to climb higher as search and rescue efforts continue, Gov. Andy Beshear said Saturday.At the same time, the region is struggling with impassable roads and outages of water, electricity, natural gas and cellphone service, he said.
Knott County has had the most fatalities, with 14 reported as of Saturday morning. Other counties where people have died include Breathitt with four deaths reported, Perry with three and Letcher and Clay counties, with two deaths each, Beshear said in a briefing at noon Saturday.
Beshear said a previous report that six children had died was incorrect, and only four of the victims were children.
“Information is going to change as we get it,” he said. “This is still an emergency situation.”
He said it’s been difficult to get an accurate count of missing people because cellphone service is still down in some places.
“Keep praying. I’m worried that we’re going to be finding bodies for weeks to come,” he said.
At least 1,432 people have been rescued by aircraft and boat through the efforts of entities including national guard units from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, Kentucky State Police and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Beshear said.
“To everyone in Eastern Kentucky, we are going to be there for you today and in the weeks, months and years ahead. We will get through this together,” Beshear said in a tweet Saturday morning.
While Saturday remained dry, Beshear said more rain, perhaps in the neighborhood of 1 to 2 inches, is expected in counties south of the Mountain Parkway later in the day Sunday and into Monday, “which could be rough.”
The National Weather Service in Jackson issued a hazardous weather outlook Saturday morning, saying ”Showers and thunderstorms are possible at times Sunday through Thursday. Heavy rainfall may occur, especially on Sunday and Monday which could lead to localized flash flooding. Excess rainfall may also contribute to additional river flooding.”
While it’s not expected to be as much as hit the area earlier this week, Beshear urged people to “make a plan” before the rain comes and “get to a safe place.”
“It’s not fair that it’s going to rain again,” he said before urging people to “be careful.”
“There’s still a lot of water with a current out there,” he said.
After the rain moves out, Beshear said hot weather may create new challenges as people without power won’t have air conditioning.
“As it gets hot next week, it could create its own emergency,” he said.
Beshear said the state is looking into setting up cooling centers to aid people in that situation.
Team Kentucky fund to pay for funerals
As of Saturday, more than $684,000 has been donated to the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund, which was set up to help victims.
Beshear said its first expenditure will be paying for funerals of those who died in the flooding.
“The least that we ought to be able to do is grieve together,” he said.
FEMA offering assistance, water outages persist
President Joe Biden signed a disaster declaration Friday, which will allow for federal funding to begin coming in.
A state of emergency has been declared in 14 counties and at least three cities, Beshear said.
He said Saturday that FEMA is already moving people into the state who can help with claims processing as it continues to help out with search and rescue.
“FEMA’s actually moving ahead of schedule,” he said.
He said the agency is also providing 18 tractor-trailer loads of water, since that continues to be a major concern as numerous water systems have been affected by the flooding.
Thousands of customers were without water Saturday. Three drinking water systems were not operational and 19 water systems were functioning with “limited operations” because of power outages, Beshear said.
Beshear said there were 26,480 service connections with no water and 29,214 service connections under a boil water advisory.
In addition, 18 wastewater systems were experiencing limited operations, according to the Emergency Response Branch Division of Waste Management.
Power restoration underway
Kentucky Power said it had 15,789 customers still without power as of Saturday morning, the vast majority in Breathitt, Leslie, Knott, Letcher, Perry and Pike counties.
“As crews are able to get in the severely damaged areas, they are reporting that entire sections of circuits are destroyed and will have to be redesigned and rebuilt,” Kentucky Power said in a news release. “Roads and terrain are so damaged to the extent that crews cannot rebuild in the same areas.
The company said efforts to restore power for people in Breathitt, Knott, Letcher and Perry county will continue “well into next week,” while most Leslie County customers and people in the South Williamson area should have electricity back on by Saturday night, and 95% of people in Floyd and Pike counties should have power by Sunday night, assuming they don’t have damage to their home or meter loop.
More than 700 people were working to restore power Saturday, including crews from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Drones and a helicopter were being used to assess damage in areas that still couldn’t be reached by vehicle.
The company said that as of Friday night, it had logged reports of “more than 60 broken poles, 17 damaged transformers, 50 broken cross arms and over 225 spans of downed wire.”
Letcher County imposes curfew
The Letcher County Sheriff’s Office announced that a curfew will be enforced from midnight to 6 a.m. beginning Saturday night, and off-road vehicles including four-wheelers will be under a curfew from dark until daylight..
Exceptions will be made for first responders, people experiencing medical emergencies and those traveling for work, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
“We will not tolerate anyone taking advantage of our already vulnerable community. We have lost enough! We are better than this! If you see anyone looting, call 911,” a statement posted on Facebook said.
State parks providing shelter
Beshear said 142 people are being temporarily housed at state parks, including 138 people at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, where rooms were fully booked but the campground was open, and four others were staying at Paintsville State Park Campground.
He said the state was working on getting power up and running at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park in Perry County, which he said would be helpful because “the shelters are overwhelmed in that county.”
Good news at Panbowl Lake Dam
While there had been concern about waters overflowing Panbowl Lake Dam in Breathitt County, Beshear said Saturday that the water level was down by 10 feet and Kentucky Route 15 had reopened.
“A hazardous and dangerous situation no longer exists,” he said.
(Herald-Leader reporter Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this report.)