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Death toll from floods in eastern Kentucky increases to 25, thousands remain without utilities

A rescue team with a local fire department rescues flood victims in eastern Kentucky. (Screenshot from Team Kentucky press conference.)
Team Kentucky
A rescue team with a local fire department rescues flood victims in eastern Kentucky. (Screenshot from Team Kentucky press conference.)

Governor Andy Beshear said 25 people have died in floods affecting eastern Kentucky, as of Saturday.

That number is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

“Information is going to change as we get it,” Beshear said. “This is still an emergency situation. We are in search and rescue mode. Again, that count is going to continue to go up.”

The death toll includes four children. Earlier reports said six children died, but two of the deceased have since been identified as adults.

Five counties — Breathitt, Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry — have reported deaths.

Beshear was unable to give a firm count of missing people. He said the widespread damage and lack of cell service in the region have made it difficult to develop an accurate estimate.

The Kentucky State Police have set up several phone lines for people to report those missing. People should contact the phone number corresponding to the county where the missing person lives.

  • Pike, Magoffin, Johnson, Martin and Floyd: 606-433-7171
  • Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Letcher and Perry: 606-435-6069
  • Owsley, Jackson and Lee: 859-623-2404
  • Wolfe and Morgan: 606-784-4127
  • Harlan: 606-573-3131

A total of 15 emergency shelters are open throughout the affected areas. While rescue efforts continue, officials have opened temporary housing at parks in the region. 

Beshear said more than 100 people are sheltering at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park. All the rooms at the resort are booked, but Beshear said other options are on the way.

“We have travel trailers on hand that are moving to eastern Kentucky right now,” he said. 

Pine Mountain State Resort Park has a few rooms open for those in need of shelter.

According to Beshear, crews are working to open a park resort in Perry County for additional shelter. The road leading to the park is currently blocked and it remains without power.

“We really need this state park to be open, and we’re working really hard at it,” Beshear said. 

Beshear said the state is working to set up a site where residents can make FEMA claims, get new driver's licenses, apply for unemployment and find other services. He said he hopes to reduce the amount of stops people have to make to receive assistance.

Money from the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund will go towards funeral costs. It’s the first expenditure from the fund, which has raised more than $600,000.

“I don’t want people to have to go through a process of reimbursement, to have to apply,” Beshear said.

Beshear said FEMA has started to move workers to Kentucky in anticipation of the state receiving an individual assistance declaration. The program would help people affected by the floods. 

Thousands of people in the region remain without utilities.

Beshear said more than 18,000 people are without electricity, more than 26,000 service connections are without water, and more than 600 are without natural gas service. 

Infrastructure is still affected, with several key roadways blocked or flooded. According to Beshear, 10 bridges in Knott, Letcher, Perry and Pike counties are closed.

Communication access is also an issue in the area. 

“We will, when cell phone service is fully restored, start getting a much more accurate picture about people missing,” Beshear said. “Just as importantly, people will be able to contact their family member who they’ve been worried about for days and to ensure that they are OK.”

Beshear said the state has worked with cell phone providers to get some service restored, but high water levels and other damage have made it difficult to reach some regions to set up mobile towers.

Search and rescue efforts continue in the region with the help of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kentucky State Police, and the Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia National Guards.

FEMA has also deployed teams.

“This is still an active search and rescue operation,” Beshear said. “We have not moved into a rebuilding phase and won’t be in one for several days, if not potentially several weeks.”

Beshear urged people living in the affected areas to prepare for the next round of rain expected to reach the region on Sunday and Monday.

“Make sure you are in a safe place. I do not want to lose one more person,” Beshear said.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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