JACKSON, Ky. (NewsNation) — A desperate race to save lives in Kentucky is underway as the eastern part of the state is crippled by catastrophic floods that have left at least 16 people dead and several missing as more rain is on the way.
Thursday’s storm sent water gushing from hillsides and surging out of streambeds in Appalachia, inundating homes, businesses and roads. Rescue crews used helicopters and boats to pick up more than 100 people trapped by the floodwaters.
President Joe Biden on Friday approved a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and ordered federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local recovery efforts in 13 counties.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear asked for prayers as heavy rain continued to pound the region Friday and authorities warned the death toll would likely grow sharply. Some waterways were not expected to crest until Saturday.
It’s the latest in a string of catastrophic deluges that have hammered parts of the U.S. this summer, including St. Louis earlier this week and again on Friday. Scientists warn climate change is making weather disasters more common.
Beshear warned that property damage in Kentucky would be extensive and opened an online portal for donations that would go to residents affected by the flooding.
Beshear told The Associated Press that children were among the victims and that the death toll could more than double as rescue teams searched stricken areas. The deaths happened in four eastern Kentucky counties, he said.
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.
Poweroutage.us reported more than 33,000 customers without electricity in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.
Rescue crews worked feverishly to try to reach people trapped by the floodwaters.
“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued,” Beshear said 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.”
The storms hit an Appalachian mountain region where communities and homes are often perched on steep hillsides or set deep in the hollows between them, where creeks and streams can rise in a hurry.
Roads in many areas weren’t passable after as much as six inches of rain had fallen in some spots by Thursday, and one to three more inches could fall, the National Weather Service said.
Beshear said he deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas, and three parks in the region were opened as shelters for displaced people.
More than 200 people have sought shelter, Beshear said. He deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas. President Joe Biden called to express his support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Beshear said, predicting it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.
The city of Hazard urged 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, 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.
If anyone is in need of shelter, the First Presbyterian Church, East Perry Elementary West Perry Elementary, Gospel Light Baptist Church, Second Creek Church of God and the Buckhorn Lake State Resort Lodge are all open, Perry County Kentucky Fiscal Court wrote in a Facebook post.
Beshear asked that anyone missing a loved one should not call 911; they should call Kentucky State Police Post 13 directly at 606-435-6069.
Residents face a long road to recovery, and Beshear stressed the importance of donating water and cleaning supplies to the communities affected by flooding
The state government announced a fund to help gather resources for those in need in eastern Kentucky.
“All donations to the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund are tax-deductible and donors will receive a receipt for tax purposes after donating. If you wish to donate to the Relief Fund, please select an amount and click on the donate button below,” the website reads.
Many organizations continue to announce initiatives to supply and support eastern Kentucky with both crowdfunding and direct donations.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky is accepting donations to help with relief. You can donate to the “Appalachain Crisis Aid” fund. When you donate, specify which county you want your funds to go to.
eKY Mutual Aid, a team of nonprofit workers and community members in eastern Kentucky, is accepting donations with a goal of raising $20,000.
The Better Business Bureau recommends verifying charities at Give.org and never clicking on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, or in strange emails or text messages.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron activated the price gouging hotline and online reporting portal in response to severe flooding in the eastern region of the Commonwealth on Thursday. Suspected price gouging can be reported to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 502-696-5485 or by visiting ag.ky.gov/pricegouging.
The Associated Press contributed and NewsNation affiliate WDKY to this report.