FRANKFORT, Ky. – At least 15 people have died after heavy rains caused severe flooding in eastern Kentucky, knocking out power to thousands, downing trees and destroying homes and businesses.
Update 11:04 a.m. EDT July 29: The death toll has risen again to 16 and is expected to climb higher, The Associated Press reported.
“The tough news is 16 confirmed fatalities now, and folks that’s going to get a lot higher,” Gov. Andy Beshear said, the AP reported. The deaths were in four eastern Kentucky counties.
Update 8:07 a.m. EDT July 29: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll has risen to 15 people, including children, The Associated Press reported Friday morning. He added that he expects the toll to rise, the news agency reported.
Update 6:42 p.m. EDT July 28: Beshear said the death toll has risen to eight people. The governor said more rain is expected in the area.
“This is an ongoing natural disaster, with more rain expected tonight that could worsen the situation,” Beshear tweeted Thursday evening. “The death toll has heartbreakingly risen to eight Kentuckians lost.”
Original report: Beshear said officials have confirmed the death of an 81-year-old woman native to Perry County. Two other people, one in Perry County and another in Knott County, have also died, he said. Authorities are also investigating the possible deaths of two people who were in a truck that was swept away by floodwaters.
“Unfortunately, I expect double-digit deaths in this flooding,” the governor said at a news conference Thursday. “That’s something that we rarely see.”
Beshear urged people to take steps to protect themselves as more rain is expected to fall Thursday night in some parts of the state. He warned that if people fail to take precautions, “even the total (number of deaths) that we expect can grow.”
Earlier Thursday, Beshear declared a state of emergency due to the flooding, which he said was likely to be “one of the most significant deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.”
The governor said several people remained unaccounted for, though exact numbers were not immediately available.
“There are going to be a lot of people out there that are going to need our help,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of people that are going to be displaced, and this is yet another disaster that is going to take some time to rebuild.”
Officials have deployed helicopters and boats to rescue people stranded by the floodwaters. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 25,000 people had lost power, with efforts to restore service hampered by the still high waters.
“Knott and Letcher (counties have) been hit hard,” Beshear said. “Pike, Martin and Floyd counties are also sending reports of slides and high waters. Extreme, historic levels of flooding (have) been reported in Northern Perry County and Southern Breathitt County.”
Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton of the Kentucky National Guard said officials were working Thursday to get ahead of the “rapidly evolving situation.”
“We’re striving to get as much in the way of resources to the impact area,” he said. “We do anticipate the response continuing for several days.”
Officials with the National Weather Service’s Jackson office said Thursday that more showers and thunderstorms are likely to pass over the area, bringing with them the continued threat of flash flooding through Friday.