Biden issued a disaster declaration as the Kentucky floods killed at least 16 people


Hazzard, Kentucky – People brought harrowing stories of survival Friday when they took refuge in a school that became a refuge for those who lost everything when muddy water quickly seeped into their homes.

Some clung to trees while flood waters ran beneath them. Others held the children tightly. A man grabbed a branch so tightly that it broke his ribs and collarbone.

“He fainted and all he remembers is waking up with the lights in his eyes,” said Kristi Gorman, assistant superintendent of the Perry County School District, which includes the shelter in an elementary school. “And we have a lot of stories like that.”

President Biden on Friday issued a declaration of a major disaster in Kentucky The death toll has risen to at least 16 – including several children – since Wednesday. Families in hard-hit towns are beginning to receive bleak news of the loss of their relatives. Others got glimpses of destroyed homes. Thousands were left without electricity from the catastrophic floods.

Meanwhile, flood monitoring remained in place in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, and Democratic Governor Andy Beshear said he expected the death toll to more than double.

“As a governor, I’ve seen a lot,” he said, recalling previous floods. “This is by far the worst.”

And among the dead—in Perry, Knott, Letcher, and Clay counties—six children, Bashir said at least three people are in their 60s, at least two people are in their 70s, and an 81-year-old woman. Most of the people in Knott County were killed, The county has a population of about 15,000 and is located about 150 miles southeast of Lexington.

The disaster situation freed up federal funding to support the recovery – which was still going on Friday. With people stuck on roofs and trees, paramedics conducted about 50 air rescues and hundreds of boat rescues on Thursday, Bashir said. Limited cellular service made it difficult to determine how many were missing, and flooding in some areas was not expected to peak another day.

But as the survivors were pulled to safety and the displaced population began to reach shelters, stories of what they had experienced began to emerge.

Brittany Trejo told the Lexington Herald Leader that her cousins, who ranged in age from 1 to 8, were washed away from their parents in the floods on Thursday.

“They went up to the surface and washed the entire bottom with them and the kids. They made it into a tree and… they held the kids a few hours before a big tide and swept them all away at the same time,” Trejo said. “Mother and father were stranded in the tree for 8 hours before anyone got there to help.”

How two rain events every 1 in 1,000 years hit the United States in two days

Dwayne Applegate, 48, said he lost almost everything when the North Fork of the Kentucky River overflowed — causing damage throughout the small community of Barwick that he likened to someone who “thrown a bomb on him.”

He fled in search of higher ground, eventually reached some nearby woods and walked through about four miles of muddy paths. Later, a passerby took him in a jeep to Hazard, where the shelter in West Perry Elementary hosted him.

He said, “If I were 70.” “I couldn’t do that.”

Applegate said his mother’s property on a hill was safe from floodwaters, but was essentially isolated on all sides, leaving her stranded. At some point, he hopes to get to it.

“People of Kentucky, we come together because we are strong,” Applegate said.

National Weather Service Jackson Station expect Precipitation will slow gradually on Friday as a cold front moves into the area. However, more storms are expected from Sunday to Tuesday.

The deluge was triggered by the same weather that caused historic flooding on Tuesday in St. Louis, with at least one person killed and many stranded in their cars and homes. Chances of precipitation there and in Kentucky are less than 1 in 1,000 in a given year.

Man-made climate change has dramatically increased extreme precipitation events in the last century. The probability of heavy rains is now about 20 to 40 percent higher in and near eastern Kentucky than it was around 1900, according to the US government’s National Climate Assessment.

This week’s flash floods were the second weather-related crisis in Kentucky in the past year. In December, at least 70 people died when tornadoes swept through parts of the South and Midwest.

Hundreds of homes have been lost in what Bashir called “the worst flood disaster, at least in my life, in Kentucky.” More than 300 people were in shelters. Churches are missing complete walls, and houses are opened, exposing the rooms inside. Stagnant water has made some back roads impassable, while others are blocked by mudslides and fallen trees.

The muddy devastation of the latest emergency became more evident in some eastern Kentucky communities Friday as floodwaters began to recede.

Tim Wootton, principal of the school, Berry County, said the damage to Buckhorn School — a K-12 facility with more than 300 students — was “absolutely astounding.” He said the school filled at least six feet of water Wednesday night as nearby Squabble Creek swelled over its banks.

Scattered timber, metal, and other debris from the upstream structures smashed school windows and doors and filled hallways. Although the school’s exterior walls remained mostly intact, Wootton said the interior had sustained “significant” damage.

“There is nothing to be saved,” Kristi Stamper, assistant principal of the school, said Friday.

Wootton said the school graduated from Class 120 in the spring, and students and residents of the small town of Buckhorn see it as a focal point in the community.

“We’re a family, and that’s her heart,” Stamper said tearfully.

As flood waters rose around Bryce Ness’ home in Lost Creek, Kentucky, Wednesday night, his daughter-in-law urged him to flee. His daughter-in-law, Sue Ness, said he survived the floods last year, but this time it was much worse.

At about 2 a.m., Price, 72, left in his pickup truck to search for higher ground. Sue said she didn’t hear from him again until Friday morning.

He told her he parked his car on dry land and eventually drove off, hoping someone would save him. Sue, 48, said she plans to try to find him.

“This is family,” she said. “Just go.”

Through text messages, Sue locates her father-in-law, about two hours from her home in Valley, Kentucky, and has texted him that she’s coming to get him after a quick stop at Walmart to buy him some supplies.

In his letter, she said, he asked her to bring him a pack of cigarettes.

Etty and Zacks reported from Washington. Jason Samino contributed to this report.

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