Floods in central Appalachian Mountains kill at least 8 in Kentucky

JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — Torrential rain triggered devastating floods in Appalachia on Thursday, as rapidly rising waters in Kentucky killed at least eight people and caused people to rush to rooftops for rescue.

Water poured from hillsides and flooded creek beds, inundating homes, businesses, and streets throughout eastern Kentucky. Parts of western Virginia and south western Virginia also experienced extensive flooding. Rescue workers used helicopters and boats to rescue people trapped by the floods.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted Thursday night that the state’s death toll from flooding has risen to eight. He asked for continued prayers for the region as it braces for more rain.

“In a word, this event is devastating,” Beshear said earlier in the day. “And I believe it will end up being one of the most significant and deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.”

In Breathitt County, Kentucky, Krystal Holbrook’s family raced against surging floodwaters in the early hours of the morning to move possessions to higher ground. Their ordeal began around 4 a.m. Thursday as they scurried in the dark to move vehicles, RVs, trailers and farm equipment. But as the water continued to rise throughout the day, the concern was that “higher terrain will be a bit difficult,” she said.

“It looks like a huge lake back here,” she said.

Beshear warned that property damage would be widespread in Kentucky. The governor said officials would set up a fundraiser that would go to residents affected by the floods.

Dangerous conditions and sustained rainfall hampered rescue efforts on Thursday, the governor said.

“We have a lot of people who need help that we can’t reach right now,” Beshear said. “We will.”

Flash flooding and mudslides have been reported in the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southwestern Virginia, where thunderstorms have dropped several inches of rain in recent days.

With more rain expected in the region, the National Weather Service said additional flooding was possible through Friday across much of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. Forecasters said the main flash flood threat was likely to shift farther east to West Virginia.

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Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without power in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the majority of the outages in Kentucky.

“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on rooftops waiting to be rescued,” Beshear said earlier Thursday. “There are a number of individuals who are missing and I’m almost certain that this is a situation where we will lose some of them.”

Rescue workers worked all night to help people stranded by rising waters in Perry County, eastern Kentucky, where emergency management director Jerry Stacy described it as a “catastrophic event.”

“We’re in rescue mode right now,” Stacy said in a phone call to The Associated Press as he struggled to reach his Hazard office. “Extreme flash floods and mudslides are just everywhere.”

The storms hit an Appalachian mountain region where communities and homes sit on steep slopes or deep in the hollows between them where streams and creeks can rise in a hurry. But this one is far worse than a typical flood, said Stacy, 54.

“I’ve lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by far the worst event I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Roads in many areas were impassable after up to 15 centimeters of rain fell in some areas through Thursday and could fall another 7.5 centimeters (1-3 inches), the National Weather Service said.

Beshear said he has deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas and three parks in the region have opened as shelters for displaced people.

The Breathitt County Courthouse opened overnight in Kentucky, and emergency management director Chris Friley said the Old Montessori School would provide more permanent shelter once crews can man it.

Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters have washed out roads and bridges and ripped homes off their foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue workers had been out all night and urged people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break from the rain”.

In West Virginia’s Greenbrier County, firefighters pulled people from flooded homes, and five campers stranded by floodwaters in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department, WCHS-TV reported.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six West Virginia counties after severe thunderstorms this week caused significant local flooding, downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.

Communities in southwest Virginia were also inundated, and the National Weather Service’s office in Blacksburg, Virginia warned of more showers and storms Thursday.

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Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan of Louisville, Kentucky and Sarah Brumfield of Silver Spring, Md. contributed to this report.

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