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Death toll rises to at least 25 in Kentucky flooding


The death toll in flood-stricken parts of eastern Kentucky climbed to at least 25 and will almost certainly “get worse” as first responders work to account for missing residents, the state’s governor said on Saturday.

Governor Andy Beshear said the immediate goal is “to get as many people to safety as possible” following what officials have described as unprecedented flooding in the region.

Hundreds of people have been rescued by air and water in recent days by National Guard members from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, as well as by officers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and State Police.

Kentucky floods
The death toll in flood-stricken parts of eastern Kentucky climbed to at least 25. (CNN)

“It is a really hard thing right now, with how wide the destruction is (and) areas that are impacted, to get any firm number on people that are missing,” said Beshear, urging residents to report missing persons.

Cellphone service is still out in some counties, and water systems are overwhelmed, according to the governor. One hospital had no water.

“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 on Saturday.

Rescue efforts have been hindered due to power outages persisting Saturday with more than 13,000 homes and businesses remaining in the dark, according to PowerOutage.us.

Kentucky floods
The mayor said the city’s water treatment plant is completely offline, with more than 20,000 residents relying entirely on shipments of bottled water. (CNN)

Massive floodwaters washed out homes in several counties, leaving some residents scrambling to their rooftops to escape the deadly flooding.

Officials believe thousands have been affected by the storms, and efforts to rebuild some areas may take years, the governor said Friday.

“It is devastating for us, especially after the western part of our state went through the worst tornado disaster we’ve ever seen just seven-and-a-half months ago,” Beshear told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, referencing a series of tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky in December and left 74 people dead.

Hazard Mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini told CNN’s Pamela Brown Saturday “we’ve got a team of coroners here working the three-county area with cadaver dogs just trying to find people and identify people.”

Mobelini added his discussions with officials in Perry, Breathitt and Knott Counties lead him to believe the final figure will be far higher than the official death toll of 25.

“It’s over 30-some total for just our three counties, and I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg, truthfully,” Mobelini said.

Kentucky floods
Rescue efforts have been hindered due to power outages. (CNN)

The mayor said the city’s water treatment plant is completely offline, with more than 20,000 residents relying entirely on shipments of bottled water. And even after the floodwaters recede, many will not be able to rebuild.

Couple staying in car vow to help with cleanup

Clay Nickles and his wife, McKenzie, spoke to CNN on Saturday from their car after their home in the city of Neon, in Letcher County, was damaged two days ago.

“All of our family so far has been accounted for but we have neighbours who have not,” Clay Nickles said.

Nickles described Neon as a tight-knit community, “like Mayberry with Andy Griffith.”

“Everybody, whether they’re family or not, is like family,” he said. “In an event like this typically, if one or two people get devastated, everybody joins in to help. In this situation, everyone is devastated.”

Nickles said they will leave their car later to help with cleanup efforts.

“This is tough but we will get through this,” Nickles said.

“These people were fighters and mountain people have had a lot of heart.”

Deaths have been reported in Knott, Perry, Letcher and Clay counties. Fourteen people, including four children, were confirmed dead on Friday afternoon in Knott County, according to the county coroner.

It was not immediately clear how the numbers factor into the state’s overall death toll.

Kentucky Floods
Fourteen people, including four children, were confirmed dead Friday afternoon in Knott County. (CNN)

The four children were siblings, according to their aunt Brandi Smith, who said the family’s mobile home became overwhelmed with floodwaters and forced the family to rush to the roof for safety.

She added her sister, Amber, and her partner tried to save their children but were unable.

“They were holding on to them. The water got so strong, it just washed them away,” Smith told CNN.

Kentucky Floods
Cellphone service is still out in some counties, and water systems are overwhelmed, according to the governor. One hospital had no water. (CNN)

Eastern Kentucky is expected to get some relief from heavy rain Saturday. Rain is possible on Sunday into Monday, when there is a slight risk of excessive rain over the region, according to the Weather Prediction Center.

Affected areas may include eastern Tennessee and along the Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The city of Hazard in southeastern Kentucky had seven of its nine bridges impassable, an “unheard of” number, Mobelini said on Friday morning.

Among the buildings wiped out was a two-story church, pastor Peter Youmans told CNN.

“All that you see is scraps of cement,” Youmans said of his Davidson Baptist Church, and witnessed floodwaters also wiping out a house nearby.

“It started raining so hard that it was clearly coming up into the parking lot,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

“And then it got up into our house. That’s when I knew it was really bad because it’s never been in our house before. It was about a foot.”

A small creek in front of Youmans’ house is about 8 or 10 feet wide and normally less than 6 inches deep, but during the flooding, trailers were moving down the creek, he said.

Parishioners would typically be helping the church at a time like this, yet they are “taking care of their own problems right now,” he noted.

“And some of them are in as bad or worse shape than we are in,” he said.

“We’re just thankful that the house was not destroyed with my grandchildren in it.”

I’m still sort of traumatised’

Meanwhile, Joseph Palumbo in Perry County is struggling to reach his home after another house washed up onto a road on the way, blocking access.

“We walk to the end of our driveway, and there is an entire double-wide trailer smashed into our bridge,” Palumbo told CNN on Friday. The trailer had been across Highway 28 from his own house for decades, he said.

Kentucky Floods
Kentucky Flood death toll set to rise. (CNN)

“I’m still sort of traumatised because never in my life have I seen something like this,” Palumbo said.

And because the trailer landed on a small bridge over a creek, he and his girlfriend, Danielle Langdon, have no way of walking around it.

“We’re climbing up a ladder, scaling across a tin roof, mud everywhere,” Palumbo said.

“The first day, we’re sliding across the tin roof to get to the other side.”

The resident of the destroyed home was not inside at the time of flooding and made it through the storm unharmed.

“I have friends that I haven’t seen in years reaching out to me,” Palumbo said.

Sydney icon disappears under heavy blanket of fog

“It’s really heartening to see the way people help each other.”



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