Kentucky flooding kills three, death toll expected to hit double digits, governor says

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Massive flooding in Kentucky Thursday has killed at least three people, and the death toll was expected to hit double digits, Gov. Andy Beshear said in announcing an emergency declaration. 

“In a word, this event is devastating,” the governor said Thursday, after declaring a state of emergency in six counties. “And I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant, deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.

Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department walk inflatable boats across floodwaters over Kentucky State Road 15 in Jackson, Ky., to pick up people stranded by the floodwaters.

Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department walk inflatable boats across floodwaters over Kentucky State Road 15 in Jackson, Ky., to pick up people stranded by the floodwaters. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

The three deaths included two people in Perry County, one of whom was an 81-year-old woman. The third death was reported in Knott County. 

The governor grimly predicted that many people would be displaced, and hundreds of properties would be destroyed, potentially taking years to repair.  

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

Rescue crews worked throughout the night helping people stranded by the rising waters in eastern Kentucky’s Perry County, where Emergency Management Director Jerry Stacy called it a “catastrophic event.”

The flooded elementary school in Buckhorn, Ky. 

The flooded elementary school in Buckhorn, Ky.  (@JohnnyRayFeltn1)

Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, and southern West Virginia, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain in recent days. 

In Breathitt County in eastern Kentucky, floodwaters covered roads and swamped homes and businesses. A volunteer fire department had to abandon its flooded-out station, authorities said.

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The storms hit an Appalachian mountain region where communities and homes are built on steep hillsides or down in the hollows between them, where the only flat land often shoulders creeks and streams that can rise in a hurry. 

Roads in many areas weren’t passable after as much as 6 inches of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches could fall, the National Weather Service said.

In Kentucky’s Perry, Leslie and Clay counties, people in low areas were urged to seek higher ground after multiple swift water rescues. Breathitt County’s courthouse was opened overnight, and Emergency Management Director Chris Friley said the Old Montessori School would provide more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.

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Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night, urging people on Facebook to stay off roads and “pray for a break in the rain.”

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

Bonnie Combs stands by and watches her property become covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky., Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Bonnie Combs stands by and watches her property become covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky., Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Communities in southwest Virginia also saw flooding, and the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Virginia, warned of more showers and storms on Thursday.

In Buchanan County, Virginia, which was hit by severe flooding two weeks ago, preliminary assessments of the previous flooding were postponed for safety amid the latest high water, according to Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Lauren Opett. 

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And in Wise County, the Office of Emergency Management warned of imminent flooding and road closures in the Pound Bottom area on Thursday morning. Officials advised residents to shelter in place until floodwaters recede or evacuate to a shelter in an elementary school.

Fox News’ Julia Musto and The Associated Press contributed to this report.