Watch live: Kentucky governor gives updates on devastating floods that have killed at least 16 people

Search and rescue teams backed by the National Guard searched Friday for people missing in record flooding that wiped out entire communities in some of America’s poorest places. Kentucky’s governor said 16 people had died, a number he expected to rise as the rain continued to fall.

“We still have a lot of research to do,” said Jerry Stacy, the emergency management director for Kentucky’s Perry County. “We still have missing people.”

Powerful floods engulfed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys and hollows, inundating homes and businesses, leaving vehicles in useless piles and crunching runaway equipment and debris against bridges. Mudslides left people on steep slopes and at least 33,000 customers were without power.

Gov. Andy Beshear told The Associated Press on Friday that children were among the victims and that the death toll could more than double as rescue teams search the disaster area.

“The hard news is that there are now 16 confirmed fatalities, and that’s going to rise a lot,” the governor said during a late-morning briefing. He said the deaths occurred in four counties in eastern Kentucky. Beshear was expected to give another update Friday afternoon.

Homes along the Gross Loop off KY-15 are flooded with water from the North Fork of the Kentucky River on July 28, 2022. Arden S. Barnes/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The floodwaters swept through the area so violently and quickly that residents, many still recovering from the latest deluge, barely had time to get out.

“I lost everything, twice,” Dennis Gross told CBS affiliate WKYT-TV. “That makes me lose everything twice, and I’m not the only one.”

Emergency crews made nearly 50 air rescues and hundreds of water rescues Thursday, and more people still needed help, the governor said. “This is not just an ongoing disaster, but an ongoing search and rescue. The water won’t rise in some areas until tomorrow.”

Determining the number of people missing is difficult with cell service and electricity in the disaster area, he said: “This is so widespread that it’s a challenge even for local officials to put that number together.”

More than 290 people have sought shelter, Beshear said. He deployed National Guard soldiers to the most affected areas. Three parks set up shelters, and with property damage so extensive, the governor opened an online portal for donations to victims. President Biden called to express his support for what will be a long recovery effort, said Beshear, who predicted it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.

“It’s the worst we’ve had in a long time,” Friley told WKYT-TV. “It’s all over the county again. There are several places that are still not accessible to rescue crews.”

Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off their foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night and urged people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break in the rain.”

Mr. Biden also declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency appointed an official to coordinate the recovery.

Beshear had planned to tour the disaster area on Friday, but postponed it because conditions at an airport where they planned to land are unsafe, his office said.

More rain lashed the region on Friday after days of torrential rain. The storm sent water pouring down hillsides and out of creek beds, flooding roads and forcing rescue teams to use helicopters and boats to reach those trapped. Flooding also damaged parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia, a region where poverty is endemic.

“There are hundreds of families that have lost everything,” Beshear said. “And a lot of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so it hurts even more. But we’ll be there.” reported that more than 33,000 customers were without power Friday in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with most of the outages in Kentucky.

Van Jackson checks on his dog, Jack, who was stranded in a church by floodwaters after a day of heavy rain in Garrett, Ky., July 28, 2022. Pat McDonogh/USA Today Network via Reuters

Rescue crews also worked in Virginia and West Virginia to reach people in places where roads were impassable. Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency in six West Virginia counties where flooding downed trees, caused power outages and blocked roads. Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing Virginia to mobilize resources to flooded areas in southwest Virginia.

“With more rain expected in the coming days, we want to lean forward to provide as many resources as possible to help those affected,” Youngkin said in a statement.

The National Weather Service said another storm front adding misery to flood victims in St. Louis, Mo., on Friday could bring more storms to the Appalachians, where flash flooding remained possible into Friday evening in locations across the region.

Brandon Bonds, a meteorologist with the weather service in Jackson, Ky., said some places could see more rain Friday afternoon and start to dry out Saturday “before things pick up again Sunday and into next week.”

The hardest-hit areas of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches during a 48-hour period that ended Thursday, Bonds said. Some areas got more rain overnight, including Martin County, which was hit with another 3 inches or so that prompted a new flash flood warning on Friday.

The North Fork of the Kentucky River rose to break records in at least two places. A river gauge read 20.9 feet in Whitesburg, more than 6 feet over the previous record, and the river reached a record 43.47 feet in Jackson, Bonds said.

Krystal Holbrook had enough Thursday as her family raced through the night to move vehicles, RVs, trailers and equipment as rapidly rising waters threatened Jackson. “The higher ground is becoming a little difficult” to find, he said.

In Whitesburg, Kentucky, flood waters seeped into the Appalshop, an arts and education center known for promoting and preserving the region’s history and culture.

“We’re not exactly sure of the total damage because we haven’t been able to safely enter the building or get too close,” said Meredith Scalos, its director of communications. “We know that some of our archival materials have left the building and onto the streets of Whitesburg.”

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