Baltimore Sun

Deadly deluge hits hard in Kentucky

At least 16 killed as rain, floods pound eastern Appalachia

- By Dylan Lovan, Bruce Schreiner and Matthew Brown

JACKSON, Ky. — Trapped homeowners swam to safety and others were rescued by boat as record flash flooding killed at least 16 people in Kentucky and swamped entire Appalachia­n towns, prompting a frenzied search for survivors Friday through some of the poorest communitie­s in America.

Heavy rain continued to pound parts of the region and more rain was forecast for early next week. Authoritie­s warned the death toll would likely grow sharply and some waterways were not expected to crest until Saturday.

It’s the latest in a string of catastroph­ic deluges that have hammered parts of the nation this summer, including St. Louis earlier this week and again Friday. Scientists warn climate change is making weather disasters more common.

Water poured down hillsides and into Appalachia­n valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and streams coursing through small towns. The torrent engulfed homes and businesses and trashed vehicles. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.

Rescue teams backed by the National Guard used helicopter­s and boats to search for the missing but some areas remained inaccessib­le. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at least two children were among the victims and that the death toll was “going to get a lot higher.” It could take weeks to account for all victims, he said.

Patricia Colombo, 63, of Hazard, Kentucky, got

stranded after her car stalled in floodwater­s on a state highway. Colombo began to panic when water started rushing in. Her phone was dead, but she saw a helicopter overhead and waved it down. The helicopter crew radioed a team on the ground that pulled her safely from her car.

Colombo stayed the night at her fiance’s home in Jackson and they took turns sleeping, repeatedly checking the water with flashlight­s to see if it was rising. Colombo lost her car but said others who were struggling prior to the floods had it worse.

“Many of these people cannot recover out here. They have homes that are half underwater, they’ve lost everything,” she said.

At least 33,000 utility customers were without

power. The flooding extended into western Virginia and southern West Virginia, across a region where poverty is endemic.

“There are hundreds of families that have lost everything,” Beshear said. “And many of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so it hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them.”

Extreme rain events have become more common as climate change bakes the planet and alters weather patterns, according to scientists. That’s a growing challenge for officials during disasters, because models used to predict storm impacts are in part based on past events and can’t keep up with increasing­ly devastatin­g flash floods, hurricanes and heat waves.

“This is what climate

change looks like,” meteorolog­ist and Weather Undergroun­d founder Jeff Masters said of flooding in Appalachia and the Midwest. “These extreme rainfall events are the type you would expect to see in a warming world.”

A day before the floods hit Appalachia, the National Weather Service had said Wednesday that there was a “slight to moderate risk of flash flooding” across the region on Thursday.

The deluge came two days after record rains around St. Louis dropped more than 12 inches and killed at least two people. Last month, heavy rain on mountain snow in Yellowston­e National Park triggered historic flooding and the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. In both instances, the rain flooding far exceeded what forecaster­s


The floodwater­s raging through Appalachia were so swift that some people trapped in their homes couldn’t be immediatel­y reached, said Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams.

Just to the west in hardhit Perry County, authoritie­s said some people remained unaccounte­d for and almost everyone in the area had suffered some sort of damage.

“We’ve still got a lot of searching to do,” said Jerry Stacy, the emergency management director in Perry County.

More than 290 people have sought shelter, Beshear said.

President Joe Biden called to express support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Beshear said, predicting

it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.

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 officer to coordinate the recovery.

FEMA Administra­tor Deanne Criswell said the agency would bring whatever resources were necessary to support search and recovery efforts.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia where the flooding downed trees, power outages and blocked roads. Gov. Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaratio­n, enabling Virginia to mobilize resources across the flooded southwest of the state.

 ?? AUSTIN ANTHONY/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Kenneth Neace examines the remains of his home Friday after it was destroyed by flooding in Breathitt County, Kentucky. Water has poured down hillsides into valleys in the region, swamping whole towns.
AUSTIN ANTHONY/THE NEW YORK TIMES Kenneth Neace examines the remains of his home Friday after it was destroyed by flooding in Breathitt County, Kentucky. Water has poured down hillsides into valleys in the region, swamping whole towns.

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