More rain adds to Kentucky sorrow
Death toll is at 35; governor warns of threat from winds
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Another round of rainstorms hit flooded Kentucky mountain communities Monday as more bodies emerged from the sodden landscape, and the governor warned that high winds could bring another threat — falling trees and utility poles.
Amid deadly storms in Appalachia and wildfires exploding in the West, the White House announced Monday that it is making more than $1 billion in competitive grants available to states to address flooding and extreme heat exacerbated by climate change.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll rose to 35, and hundreds of people remained unaccounted for five days after one of the nation’s poorest regions was swamped by nearly a foot of rain. The water poured down hillsides and into valleys and hollows, engulfing entire towns. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.
Touring the National Hurricane Center in Miami before the grant announcement, Vice President Kamala Harris said disasters such as the Kentucky floods and California wildfires show “how immediate, how current and how urgent” it is to address extreme weather being experienced in the United States and around the world.
“Climate change has become a climate crisis, and a threat has now become a reality,” she said in a speech
at Florida International University.
“The devastation is real. The harm is real. The impact is real,” Harris said. “And we are witnessing it in real time.”
In 2021, the United States experienced 20 climate-related disasters that each caused over $1 billion in damage, Harris said, citing a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There were about six such disasters per year in the 1990s.
Radar indicated that up to 4 more inches of rain fell Sunday in Kentucky, and the National Weather Service warned that slow-moving showers and thunderstorms
could provoke more flash flooding through Tuesday morning.
“If things weren’t hard enough on the people of this region, they’re getting rain right now,” Beshear said Monday at the Capitol in Frankfort. “Just as concerning is high winds — think about how saturated the ground has been — it could knock over poles, it could knock over trees. So people need to be careful.”
An approaching heat wave means “it’s even going to get tougher when the rain stops,” the governor said. “We need to make sure people are ultimately stable by that point.”
More than 12,000 utility
customers remained without power. At least 300 people were staying in shelters. The floods were unleashed last week when 8to10 ½ inches of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.
The disaster was the latest in a string of catastrophic deluges that have pounded parts of the U.S. this summer, including St. Louis.
Nighttime curfews were declared in response to reports of looting in two of the devastated communities — Breathitt County and the nearby city of Hindman in Knott County.
Breathitt County declared a countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., County Attorney Brendon Miller said Sunday evening in a Facebook post. The only exceptions were for emergency vehicles, first responders, and people traveling for work.
“I hate to have to impose a curfew, but looting will absolutely not be tolerated. Our friends and neighbors have lost so much. We cannot stand by and allow them to lose what they have left,” the post said.
Breathitt County Sheriff John Hollan said the curfew decision came after 18 reports of looting. He said people were stealing from private property where homes were damaged. No arrests have been made.
Hindman Mayor Tracy Neice also announced a sunset-to-sunrise curfew because of looting, television station WYMT reported. Both curfews will remain in place until further notice, officials said.
Last week’s flooding extended to parts of West Virginia and Virginia. President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to flooded counties, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency was helping.
In California, two bodies were found inside a charred vehicle in a driveway in the wildfire zone of a raging California blaze that was among several menacing thousands of homes Monday in the western U.S., officials said. Hot and gusty weather and lightning storms threatened to boost the danger that the fires will keep growing,
The McKinney Fire in Northern California near the state line with Oregon exploded in size to nearly 87 square miles after erupting Friday in the Klamath National Forest, firefighting officials said. It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far and officials have not determined the cause.
The vehicle and the bodies were found Sunday morning in the driveway of a residence near the remote community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Nearly 5,000 Northern California homes and other structures were threatened and an unknown number of buildings have burned, said a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.