More rain, more bodies in flooded Kentucky mountain towns

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Another round of rainstorms hit flooded mountain communities in Kentucky on Monday as more bodies emerged from the soggy landscape, and the governor warned high winds could bring another threat — the falling trees and electric poles.

Governor Andy Beshear said the death toll rose to 37 as hundreds of people remained missing for five days after one of the country’s poorest regions was flooded by nearly a foot of rain. Water rushed down hills and into valleys and hollows, engulfing entire towns. Landslides have trapped some people on steep slopes.

Beshear suggested that many of the missing would be located when cellphone service resumed.

“When cell service resumes, we see a lot of people finding people they love and care about, so we look forward to those stories,” he said.

Radar said up to 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) more of rain fell on Sunday, and the National Weather Service warned that downpours and slow-moving thunderstorms could bring more flash flooding through Tuesday morning.

“If things weren’t bad enough for the people of this region, it’s raining right now,” Beshear said Monday at the Capitol in Frankfurt. “Equally concerning are high winds – think ground saturation.” The wind “could knock down poles, it could knock down trees. So people have to be careful. »

An approaching heat wave means “it’s even going to get tougher when the rain stops,” the governor said. “We have to make sure people are finally stable at this point.”

Chris Campbell, president of Letcher’s Funeral Home in Whitesburg, said he has begun making funeral arrangements for those who died.

“These people, most of us know them. We are a small community,” he said of the town about 110 miles (177 kilometers) southeast of Lexington. “It affects everyone.”

His funeral home recently buried a 67-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack as she tried to escape her home as the waters rose. Campbell knew her boyfriend well, he said.

On Monday, he met the family of a husband and wife in their 60s, people he also knew personally. He said it is difficult to explain the extent of the loss.

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“I don’t know how to explain it or what to say, to be completely honest,” he said. “I just can’t imagine what they’re going through. I don’t think there are really words for it.”

Campbell said her 90-year-old grandmother lost the entire house she had lived in since 1958. She managed to escape to a neighbor’s house with only a few photos. Everything else is gone, he said.

More than 12,000 utility customers were left without power. At least 300 people were staying in shelters.

The floods were triggered last week when 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and the West Virginia.

The disaster was the latest in a series of catastrophic floods that hit parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis. Scientists warn that climate change makes these events more common.

Meanwhile, nightly curfews have been declared in response to reports of looting in two of the devastated communities – Breathitt County and the nearby town of Hindman in Knott County.

Breathitt County declared a countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The only exceptions were for emergency vehicles, first responders and people traveling for work.

“I hate having to impose a curfew, but looting will absolutely not be tolerated. Our friends and neighbors have lost so much. We cannot sit idly by and allow them to lose what they have left,” County Attorney Brendon Miller said in a Facebook post.

Breathitt County Sheriff John Hollan said the curfew decision came after 18 reports of looting. He said people were stealing from private properties where houses were damaged. No arrests were made.

Hindman Mayor Tracy Neice also announced a sunset-to-sunrise curfew due to looting, WYMT TV reported. Both curfews will remain in place until further notice, officials said.

Flooding last week extended to parts of West Virginia and Virginia. President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to flooded counties, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped. Another relief effort came from the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, which has scheduled an open practice Tuesday at Rupp Arena and a charity telethon.

Coach John Calipari said the players approached him about the idea.

“The team and I are looking forward to doing what we can,” Calipari said.

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Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; Mike Pesoli in flight with the National Guard; Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia; and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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