HINDMAN, Ky. – Damage to critical infrastructure and the arrival of more heavy rains hampered efforts Sunday to help Kentucky residents hit by recent massive flooding, Gov. Andy Beshear said.
As residents in Appalachia tried to slowly piece their lives back together, flash flood warnings were issued for at least eight eastern Kentucky counties. The National Weather Service said radar indicated up to 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) of rain fell Sunday in some areas, with more rain possible.
Beshear said the death toll climbed to 28 on Sunday from last week's storms, a number he expected to rise significantly and that it could take weeks to find all the victims.
Thirty-seven people were unaccounted for as search and rescue operations continued early Sunday, according to a daily briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A dozen shelters were open for flood victims in Kentucky with 388 occupants.
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, told The Associated Press about 400 people have been rescued by National Guard helicopter. He estimated that the guard had rescued close to 20 by boat from hard-to-access areas.
At a news conference in Knott County, Beshear praised the fast arrival of FEMA trailers but noted the numerous challenges.
“We have dozens of bridges that are out — making it hard to get to people, making it hard to supply people with water," he said. "We have entire water systems down that we are working hard to get up.”
Beshear said it will remain difficult, even a week from now, to "have a solid number on those accounted for. It’s communications issues — it’s also not necessarily, in some of these areas, having a firm number of how many people were living there in the first place.”
The governor also talked about the selflessness he’s seen among Kentucky residents suffering from the floods.
“Many people that have lost everything but they’re not even getting goods for themselves, they’re getting them for other people in their neighborhoods, making sure that their neighbors are OK,” Beshear said.
Among the stories of survival that continue to emerge, a 17-year-old girl whose home in Whitesburg was flooded Thursday put her dog in a plastic container and swam 70 yards to safety on a neighbor’s roof. Chloe Adams waited hours until daylight before a relative in a kayak arrived and moved them to safety, first taking her dog, Sandy, and then the teenager.
“My daughter is safe and whole tonight,” her father, Terry Adams, said in a Facebook post. “We lost everything today … everything except what matters most.”
On an overcast morning in downtown Hindman, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Louisville, a crew cleared debris piled along storefronts. Nearby, a vehicle was perched upside down in Troublesome Creek, now back within its debris-littered banks.
Workers toiled nonstop through mud-caked sidewalks and roads.
“We’re going to be here unless there’s a deluge,” said Tom Jackson, who is among the workers.
Jackson was with a crew from Corbin, Kentucky, where he’s the city’s recycling director, about a two-hour drive from Hindman.
His crew worked all day Saturday, and the mud and debris were so thick that they managed to clear one-eighth of a mile of roadway. The water rushing off the hillsides had so much force that it bent road signs.
“I’ve never seen water like this,” Jackson said.
Attendance was down for the Sunday morning service at Hindman's First Baptist Church. Parishioners who rarely miss a service were instead back home tending to cleanup duties caused by floodwaters and mud.
The Rev. Mike Caudill said his church has pitched in to help the reeling community, serving meals and setting up tents for people to pick up cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.
Totes filled with clothes and photos were stacked on retired teacher Teresa Perry Reynolds' front porch, along with furniture too badly damaged to salvage.
“There are memories there,” she said of the family photos she and her husband were able to gather.
Her husband's wallet, lost as they escaped the fast-rising water Thursday to go to a neighbor's house, was later found.
“All I know is I’m homeless and I’ve got people taking care of me,” she said.
Parts of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches (20-27 centimeters) over 48 hours. About 13,000 utility customers in Kentucky remained without power Sunday, poweroutage.us reported.
President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties.
Last week's flooding extended to West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six southern counties, and to Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaration that enabled officials to mobilize resources across the flooded southwest portion of the state.
Raby reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.