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35 confirmed dead in flooding as rain returns to eastern Kentucky

Flood waters sweep through Whitesburg on Friday, July 29, 2022.
Katie Myers
Flood waters sweep through Whitesburg on Friday, July 29, 2022.

At least 35 are reported dead in the eastern Kentucky floods that devastated 14 counties and three cities in the state over the last week. During a news conference Monday morning, Gov. Andy Beshear said hundreds are still unaccounted for and the death toll will likely rise.

Eastern Kentuckians began the long process of cleaning up the devastation over the weekend, but flood waters rose again Monday as rain returned to the region.

Beshear said the situation was “unstable.”

“If things weren’t hard enough on the people of this region, they’re getting rain right now,” Beshear said. “There is severe storm potential today in all of the impacted areas, and that is just not right. The most risk is on the northernmost point of the impacted areas.”

The National Weather Service says showers and thunderstorms are expected in eastern Kentucky over the course of the week.

Beshear said cash donations and relief efforts in the form of food, water and cleaning supplies had been overwhelming. He highlighted the volunteer effort in Letcher County, one of the areas hardest hit by flooding.

“Virtually every person in this county who didn't have their house wiped out and some who did were here helping an amazing, enormous operation. There had to be 100-plus volunteers filling people's cars up as they came through, giving them hot food to eat and to make sure that everybody had what they needed,” Beshear said.

The Team Eastern Kentucky Relief Fund has collected around $1.5 million in assistance so far. 

Beshear said 14 emergency shelters are actively assisting about 483 people, and many campgrounds are filling up.Hundreds of travel trailers being used to house displaced people from the floods were left over from the tornadoes in western Kentucky.

“It’s going to be a really important challenge to make sure we don't lose towns, that's very possible and in the situation we face. I mean, houses swept away for miles. It's going to take millions of dollars to ultimately repair,” Beshear said.

About 13,000 people are still without power four days after the initial flooding, and many still don’t have access to clean water, internet and gas. Officials hope restoring services will increase the number of missing people reported.

Federal emergency officials have surveyed damage in five counties. Beshear said he is asking the federal government to include more counties in its emergency declaration.

In a show of compassion for the lives lost and those struggling during the floods, Beshear directed flags at state office buildings to be lowered to half staff for one week and encouraged businesses, individuals and organizations throughout Kentucky to do the same.

He also announced that the Capitol dome and the Governor’s mansion would be lit in green for the people of Kentucky “that have been through something indescribable.”

The governor’s website now includes  a list of drop-off locations for bottled water and cleaning supplies.

Beshear also announced he canceled his trip to Israel scheduled this weekend to focus on relief efforts in eastern Kentucky. 

“I cannot be overseas while the people of eastern Kentucky are suffering and we're still going to be in a critical stage over the coming weeks,” he said.

This story has been updated.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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