'Catastrophic' flash floods leave hundreds stranded, 8 dead in Ky.

By Allison Finch & Daniel Uria,

Heavy rain poured down across eastern Kentucky late Wednesday into Thursday, triggering flash flooding that caused mudslides, washed away homes and roadways and promoted a flash flood emergency.

The deluge produced more than 10 inches over a 24-hour period in the hardest-hit areas and came only days after another disastrous flood inundated the St. Louis area.


In a Thursday afternoon news conference, Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed an 81-year-old woman had died in Perry County. He confirmed an additional death in Perry County and another in neighboring Knott County. By Thursday afternoon, the death toll had reached at least eight. Beshear said he expects the death toll to reach double digits.

"Tonight we need your continued prayers for the people of Eastern Kentucky. This is an ongoing natural disaster, with more rain expected tonight that could worsen the situation," Beshear said in a tweet.


Beshear announced in a press conference on Thursday afternoon that a state of emergency has been declared in Perry, Breathitt, Clay, Owsley, Letcher and Pike counties. The state of emergency that was declared in Floyd County on Wednesday afternoon remained in effect as well.

Beshear described this as "one of the worst and most devastating events in Kentucky's history" during the news conference. Beshear said the state was in the middle of an ongoing natural disaster and warned of the possibility for more rain to fall through Thursday night. Damage assessment and restoration were likely to continue for several days, but the dangerous flooding was hindering first responders' ability to rescue residents, as well as allow utility workers to get power restored.

"I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky," Beshear said. "I wish I could tell you why areas, where people may not have that much, continue to get hit and lose everything. I can't give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can. These are our people. Let's make sure we help them out."

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White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has been briefed on the floods and that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Kentucky on Friday to survey the damage and report back to the president.


"Our hearts go out to the people of the South, of southwestern Kentucky which is experiencing considerable flash flooding that has taken the lives of multiple people," she said. "FEMA Administrator Criswell spoke to Kentucky Gov. Beshear this morning and committed to providing support from the federal government."

Storm chaser Brandon Clement captured footage of extensive flooding that seemed to wash away entire properties in the eastern Kentucky town of Hindman, located about 93 miles southeast of Lexington.

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"The water is up to their doors. If they get out, it's waist-deep and they can go up a hill, but I don't know about the current," Barbara Wicker, a Kentucky resident who was stuck in the flash flood, told Clement. "Their phones are probably out. I can't reach them, I can't reach 9-1-1. I can't reach nobody, no troopers. There is no help in sight ... It's never been this bad."

Some residents were waiting on rooftops or clinging to trees as they waited to be rescued by Kentucky National Guard members and other emergency crews that were deployed, according to Beshear. The governor said the state had a limited number of aircraft with the necessary equipment to airlift those stranded residents. As a result, Beshear said he contacted West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who agreed to send additional aircraft to aid rescue efforts in Kentucky.


Robbie Williams, judge/executive for Floyd County, told CNN that about 80 people had been rescued throughout the county since Tuesday with 50 to 60 of the rescues taking place in the western part of the county.

Kentucky 24-Hour Rainfall 7/28 AM

Local roads turned into rivers Thursday morning, making them impassable, and at least four water rescues occurred in Hazard, Ky., which is a small town in Perry County, southeast of Frankfort. The rising water levels have washed away several homes and cars across multiple southeastern Kentucky counties.

"We are dealing with a catastrophic and historic flash flooding situation in parts of the region," WYMT news director and anchor Steve Hensley said, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. "I've never seen water come off the hill behind my house like this. There are people trapped and homes and roads flooded. A flash flood emergency continues In several counties. I pray nobody has lost their life. I'm afraid the devastation we will see after daybreak will be significant."

Hensley, 46, tweeted on Thursday morning that he has never seen flooding in Perry County like the area is experiencing, adding that this is a "life-threatening situation."


Although the total number of people missing is unknown, NBC News correspondent Maggie Vespa reported that at least 20 people have been reported missing or unaccounted for in Perry County.

Rescue crews have been unable to reach several areas due to "swift water over roadways," according to the Breathitt County Emergency Management Facebook page.

On Thursday morning, MEDVAC crews from the Kentucky National Guard were preparing to leave Frankfort to assist in water rescues in eastern Kentucky.

"Due to heavy rainfall and flooding in [eastern] Kentucky, the Kentucky Guard has launched multiple aircraft to provide support for hoist & rescue operations," wrote Lt. Col. Stephen Martin, AAAF commander in a tweet.

"This is a very dangerous situation," The National Weather Service office in Jackson, Ky., wrote on Twitter as flash flood emergencies continued Thursday morning.

AccuWeather meteorologists began warning early this week that torrential downpours were expected to raise flash flooding concerns across a 1,200-mile-long zone of the United States, including across parts of Kentucky, this week.

Most of the rain started around 10 p.m. on Wednesday and continued to accumulate throughout the overnight hours, according to the Kentucky Mesonet, which has weather-monitoring stations statewide.


Over the past 24 hours, the bulk of the rain has been isolated to southeastern Kentucky. More than 5 inches had fallen in Breathitt, Perry, Owsley, Knott, Clay and Letcher counties, according to the Kentucky Mesonet.

"It just keeps coming! Torrential rain-producing storms continue to roll across the same areas," WKYT chief meteorologist Chris Bailey wrote on Twitter.

Houses were partially submerged in Hindman, Ky., early Thursday morning. Photo by Brandon Clement

Perry County was among one of the hardest-hit areas with rainfall total radar estimates over 10 inches, according to FOX56 chief meteorologist Chris Johnson.

"It's been wet in eastern Kentucky. One town, Jackson, has had over 11 inches of rain so far this month, for example," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said, adding that when the ground is already wet, especially when combined with the mountainous terrain, "it's a recipe for some serious flash flooding."

A photo shared on social media shows the Buckhorn Elementary School, located in Perry County, almost completely underwater. The water levels were just shy of the top-story windows.

A Perry County dispatcher told the local television station, WKYT, that high waters washed away roads, bridges and homes.


Rescue crews have been unable to reach several areas due to "swift water over roadways," according to the Breathitt County Emergency Management Facebook page.

"They said it was 'catastrophic' and there was too many people to help," Hindman resident Kendra Bentley told Clement.

The Breathitt County Courthouse opened its doors to those in need of temporary housing, according to the Breathitt County EMS.

"I don't have the words to describe the amount of devastation daylight will uncover across eastern Kentucky," Bailey wrote on Twitter. "This is likely to go down as one of the worst flash flood events to ever hit the state."

The damaging waters have cut power to more than 25,000 customers across eastern Kentucky as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.US.

"To everyone in Eastern Kentucky, we care about you and we love you," Beshear wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. "We're going to do our very best to do everything we can to help you."

Pydynowski said that the wet weather will remain through the end of the week before a brief break from the rain comes on Saturday.

"More storms are possible Sunday, so unfortunately flash flooding will remain a concern through the weekend at least," Pydynowski said.


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