Crews search for stranded people as Appalachia floods kill at least 8, swamp fire station

Firefighters rescued people from flooded homes and saved people and dogs in a swift water rescue on the Gauley River


Update: (9:12 a.m. CDT, July 27)

Bruce Schreiner, Rebecca Reynolds and Timothy D. Easley
Associated Press

JACKSON, Ky. — Torrential rains unleashed devastating floods in Appalachia on Thursday, as fast-rising water killed at least eight people in Kentucky and sent people scurrying to rooftops to be rescued.

Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department walk inflatable boats across flood waters over Ky. State Road 15 in Jackson, Ky., to pick up people stranded by the floodwaters Thursday. Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days.
Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department walk inflatable boats across flood waters over Ky. State Road 15 in Jackson, Ky., to pick up people stranded by the floodwaters Thursday. Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. (Photo/Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

Water gushed from hillsides and flooded out of streambeds, inundating homes, businesses and roads throughout eastern Kentucky. Parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia also saw extensive flooding. Rescue crews used helicopters and boats to pick up people trapped by floodwaters.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted Thursday evening that the state's death toll from flooding had risen to eight. He asked for continued prayers for the region, which was bracing for more rain.

"In a word, this event is devastating," Beshear said earlier in the day. "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."

In Breathitt County in Kentucky, Krystal Holbrook's family raced against surging floodwaters in the early morning hours to move possessions to higher ground. Their ordeal began around 4 a.m. Thursday, as they scurried in the dark to move vehicles, campers, trailers and farm equipment. But as the water kept rising throughout the day, the concern was that "higher ground is getting a little bit difficult," she said.

"It looks like a huge lake back here," she said.

Beshear warned that property damage in Kentucky would be widespread. The governor said officials were setting up a site for donations that would go to residents affected by the flooding.

Dangerous conditions and continued rainfall hampered rescue efforts Thursday, the governor said.

"We've got a lot of people that need help that we can't get to at the moment," Beshear said. "We will."
Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southern West Virginia, where thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain over the past few days.

With more rain expected in the area, the National Weather Service said additional flooding was possible into Friday in much of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. Forecasters said the highest threat of flash flooding was expected to shift farther east into West Virginia.

Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without electricity in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.

"There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued," Beshear said earlier Thursday. "There are a number of people that are unaccounted for and I'm nearly certain this is a situation where we are going to lose some of them."

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."

"We're just in the rescue mode right now," Stacy said, speaking with The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard. "Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere."

The storms hit an Appalachian mountain region where communities and homes are perched on steep hillsides or set deep in the hollows between them, where creeks and streams can rise in a hurry. But this one is far worse than a typical flood, said Stacy, 54.

"I've lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by the far the worst event I've ever seen," he said.
Roads in many areas weren't passable after as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches (7.5 centimeters) could fall, the National Weather Service said.

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

Breathitt County's courthouse was opened overnight in Kentucky, and Emergency Management Director Chris Friley said the Old Montessori School would provide more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.

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 got stranded by high water in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department, WCHS-TV reported.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia after severe thunderstorms this week caused significant local flooding, downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.

Communities in southwest Virginia also were flooding, and the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Virginia, warned of more showers and storms on Thursday.
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Associated Press Writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Md., contributed to this report.
 

Update: (3:21 p.m. CDT)

Bruce Schreiner, Rebecca Reynolds and Timothy D. Easley
Associated Press

JACKSON, Ky. — Rescue workers plucked people off rooftops amid fast-rising water Thursday in central Appalachia, where torrential rains unleashed devastating flooding that caused at least three deaths in Kentucky.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the deaths but grimly predicted the state's death toll could reach double digits. He said hundreds of properties could be destroyed.

"In a word, this event is devastating," the governor said Thursday. "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.

"There are going to be a lot of people out there that need our help," he added. "There's going to be a lot of people that are going to be displaced. And this is yet another disaster that is going to take some time to rebuild."

Beshear was referencing the rebuilding underway in western Kentucky, where several towns were devastated by deadly tornadoes late last year.

One emergency official in hard-hit eastern Kentucky described the situation as "catastrophic" as rescue crews searched for stranded people. Rising waters swamped roads, displaced families and caused widespread damage

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 over the past few days.

"Guys, I don't know how much more rain Buckhorn can handle," Marlene Abner Stokely said in a video she posted on Facebook, showing how Squabble Creek overflowed and swamped a historic Kentucky church. "You can see it is pretty much taken over."

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.

Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without electricity in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

"There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued," Beshear said earlier Thursday. "There are a number of people that are unaccounted for and I'm nearly certain this is a situation where we are going to lose some of them."

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."

"We're just in the rescue mode right now," Stacy said, speaking with The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard. "Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere."

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. But this one is far worse than a typical flood, said Stacy, 54.

"I've lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by the far the worst event I've ever seen," he said.

Roads in many areas weren't passable after as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches (7.5 centimeters) could fall, the National Weather Service said.

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

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.

"It's the worst we've had in quite a while," Friley told WKYT-TV, "It's county-wide again. There's several spots that are still not accessible to rescue crews."

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 got stranded by high water in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department, WCHS-TV reported.

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

In Buchanan County, 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 spokesperson Lauren Opett. Officials were determining whether its feasible to conduct the assessments virtually, she said.

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.
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Associated Press Writer Sarah Brumfield contributed to this report from Silver Spring, Md.
 

Earlier: 

Bruce Schreiner and Rebecca Reynolds
Associated Press

KESLERS CROSS LANES, W.Va. — Torrential rains unleashed flash flooding and mudslides in central Appalachia — damage a Kentucky emergency official described as "catastrophic" on Thursday as rescue crews searched rising waters for stranded people.

There were reports of flash flooding, mudslides and power outages across the mountainous region where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. Flood watches and warnings were in effect.

In hard-hit Perry County in eastern Kentucky, rescue crews worked throughout the night.

"It's a catastrophic event," said Perry County emergency management director Jerry Stacy, 54. "I've lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by the far the worst event I've ever seen."

"We're just in the rescue mode right now," said, speaking with The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard Thursday morning. "Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere."

Poweroutage.us reported more than 20,000 power outages in eastern Kentucky, and nearly 10,000 more in southern West Virginia and among the mountains of western Virginia.

Eastern Kentucky's Floyd County declared a local state of emergency due to significant rainfall and flooding, Gov. Andy Beshear said. He said the Kentucky Emergency Management crews have been deployed there.

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

Roads in many areas weren't passable after as much as 6 inches (15 cms) of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches (7.5 cms) could fall, the National Weather Service said. People in low areas in Perry, Leslie and Clay counties were urged to seek higher ground after multiple swift water rescues were reported.

The Breathitt County courthouse was opened as an overnight shelter, and Emergency Management Director Chris Friley told WKYT-TV that the Old Montessori School would serve as a more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.

"It's the worst we've had in quite a while," Friley said early Thursday. "It's county-wide again. There's several spots that are still not accessible to rescue crews."

Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off of their foundations. The city of Hazard posted on Facebook that crews were out all night helping people. The city urged drivers to stay off roads and to "pray for a break in the rain."
 

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