Community Environment

Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday evening eight people are confirmed to have died after heavy rains caused flash flooding and mudslides in parts of eastern Kentucky Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

During a news conference earlier in the day, Beshear said he expects the death toll to reach double digits. The governor declared a state of emergency related to the flooding.

“The statewide emergency allows us to go into counties that may not have declared it on their own, but lets us bring additional resources and is one of the ways that we can deploy our National Guard. It’s also one of the ways that we can ask Washington, D.C. for additional help,” Beshear said.

A flood watch for all of eastern Kentucky remains in effect through Friday evening, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists expect heavy storms to return Thursday night and potentially hit areas that are already flooded.

Beshear called the event “one of the most significant deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time” and said property damage has been massive, with hundreds losing their homes. Water rescues continue across the region.

The Kentucky National Guard is assisting with rescue operations, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency team is expected to arrive by Thursday night.

The first reported death was an 81-year old woman in Perry County and at least two other fatalities have been confirmed, one in Perry County, and one in Knott County.

Beshear said he expected “double digit deaths.”

“This isn’t just a disaster. It is an ongoing, natural disaster and is in the midst of it. And for some places, it’s going to continue through tonight,” he said.

Power and water services are down for much of the area and will be unable to be restored until flood water levels drop.

Three state resort parks–Riley State Park in Prestonsburg, Pine Mountain State Park in Pineville, and Buckhorn State Park in Buckhorn–are open to shelter those affected.

Officials are encouraging those seeking missing people in Breathitt, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties to call Kentucky State Police at (606) 435-6069, not 911. Callers should provide the person’s name and any possible location information.

Beshear said the Department for Medicaid services will work with care organizations to ensure people will have access to medications, and the Department of Public Health is monitoring senior homes and nursing homes to facilitate evacuations and communicate death numbers.

Officials in Kentucky are coordinating with peers in Tennessee and West Virginia for more helicopters to airlift people stuck on roofs, and boats which the Department of Fish and Wildlife are using for rescue efforts.

Beshear also announced the creation of the state-managed Team Kentucky Flood Relief Fund for people to make monetary donations in the wake of the storms. The initiative is similar to a fund set up after massive tornadoes tore through western Kentucky late last year.

For people in areas where flood waters have receded and neighboring areas receiving rain but not flooded, Beshear offered the following guidance:

  • Watch your step. Floodwaters often hide sharp and dangerous debris like broken glass, and metal floodwater can also be contaminated with oil, gasoline and sewage. 
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing and gear such as boots, gloves and safety glasses when moving debris. 
  • Stay away from electrical utility equipment after a storm or if it’s wet. Report any utility issues to your utility company. 
  • Only use generators or other gas powered machinery outdoors. 
  • Never drive into a road covered by flowing water. One foot of flowing water can sweep a car off a road to an SUV or a pickup truck. 
  • Respect barricades and posted signage. If you encounter a flooded road turn around. If you encounter a dark traffic signal, treat it as a four-way stop.

This story has been updated to include new information about the death toll.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.
Divya is WFPL's Capitol Reporter.