Another round of storms hit flooded Appalachian mountain communities where more than 30 people were killed and search and rescue teams found more bodies on Monday.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for and the death toll of 30 will rise, said Gov. Andy Beshear, who noted that bodies which aren’t yet part of the official death count have been recovered. More than 12,000 customers remained without power, many because their homes and businesses have been destroyed or aren’t fit for habitation. Shelters were housing at least 300 people.
The floods were unleashed last week when between 8 and 10 1/2 inches (20-27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia. Radar indicated 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 capital. “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. And it’s even going to get tougher when the rain stops. It’s going to get really hot, and we need to make sure people are ultimately stable by that point.”
Among the lives, homes and businesses swept away in the floods was some of the region’s irreplaceable history. Appalshop, a cultural center known for chronicling Appalachian life for the rest of the world, was assessing the extensive damage at its repository of Appalachian history and culture, where historic documents and artifacts were flushed out of the building.
Beshear said he saw while touring the disaster area Sunday 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.
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, said in an Associated Press interview on Sunday that about 400 people have been rescued by helicopter. “In light of the devastation, the response is going pretty well,” he said.
The governor canceled a trip to Israel that had been scheduled for later this week, saying “I cannot be 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 Judge Executive Jeff Noble 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 will be 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.
Hindman Mayor Tracy Neice also also announced a curfew Sunday night, from sunset to sunrise, due to “excessive looting,” WYMT-TV reported. Both curfews will remain in place until further notice, officials said.
President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster last week to direct relief money to flooded counties, and sent Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to coordinate directly in the recovery.
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 also made an emergency declaration that enabled officials to mobilize resources across the flooded southwest portion of the state.
Associated Press contributors include Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Mike Pesoli airborne with the National Guard and Julie Walker in Washington.