TEAM COVERAGE: Flooding death toll continues to rise; Gov. Beshear says 4 children among dead

Eastern Ky. flooding death toll continues to rise
Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 7:13 AM CDT
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EASTERN KENTUCKY (WKYT/AP) - Gov. Andy Beshear gave another update on the flooding in Eastern Kentucky after a flyover of the affected areas:

Gov. Beshear gives another update on flooding

WATCH LIVE: Gov. Beshear gives another update on flooding More >> https://bit.ly/3oD2GoS

Posted by WKYT on Friday, July 29, 2022

Search and rescue teams, backed by the National Guard, are continuing to search for people missing in record floods that wiped out entire communities in some of the poorest places in America.

The death toll continues to rise with the devastating flooding in Eastern Kentucky.

The hardest-hit county so far is Knott. The Knott County coroner says 14 bodies have been recovered, including four children.

We’ve confirmed three deaths in Perry County, two in Letcher County and two in Clay County. WYMT confirmed the Breathitt County coroner is reporting three deaths there, bringing the current number of dead to at least 24.

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Powerful floodwaters swallowed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys and hollows.

The water swept vehicles into useless piles, crunched runaway equipment and debris against bridges and swamped homes and businesses.

Mudslides on steep slopes have left many people marooned and without power and made rescues more difficult.

In a release from the White House, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Kentucky following the flash flooding that hit the eastern part of the Commonwealth.

He ordered federal aid to help support local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the aftermath of the flooding.

The release from the White House said the federal funding will be available in the counties of Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Wolfe.

Kentucky State Police is responding to the areas of eastern Kentucky that are affected. Due to a high volume of calls, they’re asking people to only dial 911 if you have an emergency. They provided these numbers for other needs:

  • If you wish to report a missing loved one in the counties of Breathitt, Perry, Knott, Letcher or Leslie counties, contact Post 13 Hazard at 606-435-6069.
  • If you wish to report a missing loved one in the counties of Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, or Pike counties, contact Post 9 Pikeville at 606-433-7711
  • If you wish to report a missing loved one in the counties of Jackson, Owsley, or Lee counties, contact Post 7 Richmond at 859-623-2404
  • If you wish to report a missing loved one in the counties of Wolfe or Morgan counties, contact Post 8 Morehead at 606-784-4127
  • If you wish to report a missing loved one in Harlan County, contact Post 10 Harlan at 606-573-3131

State parks are sheltering nearly 340 Kentuckians displaced by flooding. Those state parks are Jenny Wiley Pine and Mountain Buckhorn. Gov. Beshear says there is no power and hard to get to, but they are getting it up and running.

Knott County

Governor Andy Beshear says the death toll is the largest in Knott County. That’s where 14 people have died, including four children.

A lot of the water has receded there and the cleanup has started. The entire downtown area of Hindman was under water until Thursday afternoon. People say it’s the worst they have ever seen, worse than a terrible flood in the 1970s:

Knott County flooding

The force of the water broke the windows out at the artisan center and plywood boards are being put up Friday.

Cinder blocks are all that’s left of several homes off Kentucky 550. The creek has since returned to within its banks, but, in Hindman, there remains damage, destruction, and lots of mud.

Hindman Mayor Tracy Neice says recovery will take months, if not longer.

“Once we get the roadways and debris removed, we are going to start the process of cleanup,” said Mayor Neice. " We are still in the process of just getting access to the people.”

Neice believes there were at least 200, possibly 400, homes just in the city limits that were destroyed or heavily damaged by floodwaters.

Some power has been restored to downtown Hindman but other services will take longer.

In the Montgomery community of Knott County, a family of 6 lost their home as it was literally swept away. They climbed a tree, but four children were ripped from the grip of their parents.

“There was a house there and this trailer. With this family of six, and it just washed them away,” neighbor Bill Weinberg said.

Weinberg says he fears the death toll is going to be much higher.

Mayor Neice says the Red Cross has a shelter set up at the Knott County Sportsplex.

Breathitt County

Breathitt County flooding

We’ve learned three people were found dead in Breathitt County.

It’s heartbreaking news for the community, which has been working non-stop to rescue each other, get people and pets out of homes, and who are now just beginning to clean up some of this mess.

We’ve seen people from all over coming to help in Jackson. From those in neighboring cities helping people wade through the water to get to their flooded homes, grabbing any valuables that haven’t been destroyed, to even people from other states, like one rescuer form North Carolina, who worked with locals to get to at least 11 stranded people.

The Kentucky transportation Cabinet will be closing Kentucky 15 at Panbowl Dam to all traffic tonight. They say they’ll reevaluate the situation in the morning.

Perry County

Perry County flooding

Right now, it is still search and rescue mode for people stuck in their neighborhoods. Also, the damage is still being surveyed here as well.

The Kentucky River, which flows right along downtown Hazard, has receded. We know it has caused minor damage to some businesses.

We did get an update from Hazard city officials this morning. They say many homes are still without water and gas. Two sections of a main water line were washed away by rushing water.

Two shelters are open as well. One at West Perry Elementary and the other at Gospel Light, where 80 people are staying.

The pastor of the church, State Representative Chris Fugate, told us he has never seen water like what he did Wednesday night. He says the water washed away a church, bridges, and other buildings in Perry County.

The church is collecting water, as well as other donations, for the people who are coming there to get a meal or stay.

As a state lawmaker, he has further insight into the state response. He says the state does have plenty of resources and funding, thanks to a budget surplus, to fund the rebuilding in the county. He knows people will rebuild in Perry County.

“It’s not personal because it happened to me, it’s personal because it happened to us,” said Fugate. “People will build back. There are a lot of hurting people from not just Perry County, but Breathitt, Knott, Letcher. But we’ll stick together and we’ll take care of each other.”

The Perry County sheriff says sheriff’s offices from other counties have sent deputies to help with efforts to keep peace and also continue rescue and recovery.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare is collecting donations at their Lexington office to send to help their employees in the area and the families they serve.

A jarring update we got from ARH Friday morning says 61 of their employees have lost everything, including their homes, and another 30 are still unaccounted for. They’re hoping that is just because communication is very difficult in southeastern Kentucky. Many people don’t have service and their phones might be damaged.

Our sister station WYMT confirmed there are three deaths in Perry County. Governor Beshear confirmed one death in the county is an 81-year-old woman.

Floyd County

Floyd County flooding

Floyd County residents are now in clean-up mode, working to get the supplies they need to work through what the flood waters have damaged.

Many residents are in shelters, which are working quickly to stay in stock as more victims come in.

One of those shelters is the Floyd County Community Center in Langley. It has been a center of relief for a lot of people. It’s been a long 24 hours at this Red Cross-designated shelter. There are about 30 people staying in beds and a lot of kids getting their minds off things, playing basketball and board games, giving a sense of normalcy.

The shelter is open 24 hours a day.

The Floyd County Sheriff’s Department said this weekend between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., showers will be available at South Floyd Elementary School and Floyd Central High School. They also said every day until next Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., meals will be provided at all Floyd County Schools except Betsy Layne High School and Prestonsburg Elementary School.

Red Cross workers say more than 90 people have come in Friday already for supplies, bleach, gloves and food. A lot of people have been coming in with just the clothes on their back with no shoes on their feet.

Volunteers have been unpacking all different types of clothing for the victims, but supplies are running low.

Workers say if folks are interested in helping they can donate food, personal items like towels and shower supplies, and even gift cards to restaurants so families can get a hot meal.

You can bring any donations right down to the Floyd County Community Center at 7199 Highway 80 in Langley, which is the center of the county.

Pike County

Pike County flooding

Officials in Pike County provided an update Friday morning on the widespread damage caused by flooding.

It’s the county’s fourth major flood event in 17 months and the county judge-executive says it’s wearing on the community.

As of Friday morning, nearly a thousand people were without power in the county and several others, including a nursing home, did not have access to water.

Officials with the Mountain Water District estimate it could be another week before they’re able to get everyone’s service restored. Many of those individuals impacted do not have flood insurance, making this a costly and devastating process.

Bulk donations of drinking water are already being collected and as more resources become available from state and federal partners, they will begin distributing those to the public to aid in clean-up efforts.

“The biggest challenge in my opinion is the geography. The amount of area that’s been damaged and it’s going to take some time, particularly the utilities back on and get the cleanup process well underway, said Judge-Exec. Ray Jones.

The sheriff is also warning of rubbernecking and looting. He says if you’re caught loitering in an area you don’t belong or live in, or found on someone else’s property without their permission, you could face stiff penalties, arrest or prosecution.

Clay County

Clay County flooding

The Clay County Emergency Management team estimates millions in damage to their infrastructure. We also know of two people who died in the county, and both lived in the Bullskin area of the hard-hit Oneida community.

Clay County Judge-Executive Johnny Johnson confirmed the two people drowned. They have been identified as 73-year-old Walter Hinkle and 81-year-old Brenda Webb.

Johnson said there were dozens more unaccounted for in Oneida.

“We had 27 people missing, but we do not have any more at this time,” Johnson said.

Emergency manager David Watson said around 100 buildings have been affected or destroyed, and that’s likely a low estimate.

A command center has been set up in Oneida to assist the people in need there.

Johnson is grateful for all the help the county is receiving from fellow Kentuckians, but he knows this is just day two of a years-long recovery process.

“I’ve never seen such flood damage in one area since I’ve been county judge. It’s a disaster area, looks like a bomb went off down there,” Johnson said.

Officials said 70% of the county’s roads are now at least drivable.

If you have pictures or videos of flooding in your neighborhood or county, share them with WKYT by clicking the link below:

Copyright 2022 WKYT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.