Some Appalachia residents returned to flood-ravaged homes and communities on Saturday to shovel mud and debris and rescue what they could, while the Kentucky governor said search and rescue efforts continued after the region was inundated by torrential rains that led to to deadly flash floods .
Rescue teams struggled to get to hard-hit areas, some of which are among the poorest places in America. Dozens of deaths have been confirmed and the number is expected to grow.
In the small community of Wayland, Phillip Michael Caudill worked clearing debris and retrieving what he could from the home he shares with his wife and three children.
The water had disappeared from the house, but left a mess with questions about what he and his family will do next.
“We just hope we can get some help,” said Mr. Caudill, who is currently living in a vacant room with his family at Jenny Wiley State Park.
Caudill, a firefighter in the nearby Garrett community, went out at 1 a.m. Thursday but had to ask to leave around 3 a.m. so he could go home, where the water was quickly rising.
“That made it so difficult for me,” he said. “Here I am, watching my house submerge in water and you have people begging for help. And I couldn’t help it,” because he was taking care of his own family.
The water was knee-deep when he got home and he had to wade across the yard to carry two of his children to the car. He could barely close the door of his SUV as they left.
In Garrett on Saturday, saturated benches, tables and cushions were piled in yards along the foothills of the mountainous region as people worked to clear debris and shovel mud from driveways and roads under the now blue sky.
Hubert Thomas, 60, and his cousin Harvey, 37, fled to Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonburg late Wednesday night after floods destroyed their home in Pine Top.
They were able to save their dog, CJ, but fear the damage to the house is beyond repair. Hubert Thomas, a retired miner, said all his savings were invested in his house.
“I have nothing now,” he said.
Harvey Thomas, an emergency medical technician, said he fell asleep to the sound of light rain, but it wasn’t before his uncle woke him up to warn him that the water was getting dangerously close to the house.
“It came in and it just got worse,” he said, “as there was, at one point… we looked at the front door and mine and its cars were playing bumper cars, like bumper boats in the middle of our front garden.”
He said he doesn’t know what’s coming next, but he’s thankful he’s still alive.
“Mountain people are strong,” he said. “And, like I said, it won’t be tomorrow, probably not next month, but I think everyone will be fine. It’s just going to be a long process.”
At least 25 people, including four children, have been killed in the flooding, the Kentucky governor said Saturday.
Andy Beshear said: “We continue to pray for the families who have suffered an unfathomable loss, some have lost almost everyone in their household.”
He said the number is likely to rise significantly and it could take weeks to find all victims of the record flooding. Crews have made more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats to date.
“I’m afraid we will find bodies in the coming weeks,” he added.
The rain stopped early Friday after parts of eastern Kentucky received between 8 inches and 10.5 inches (20 cm-27 cm) for 48 hours. But some waterways wouldn’t reach the top until Saturday.
About 18,000 utilities in Kentucky were without power on Saturday.
It is the latest in a series of catastrophic floods that have ravaged parts of the US this summer, including St. Louis earlier this week and again on Friday. Scientists warn that climate change is making weather disasters more frequent.
As the rain hit Appalachia this week, water tumbled down slopes and into valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and streams that flowed through small towns. The deluge engulfed homes and businesses and destroyed vehicles. Mudslides left some people on steep slopes.
President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to send aid funds to more than a dozen counties in Kentucky.
The flooding spread into western Virginia and southern West Virginia.
Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia, where the floods knocked down trees, cut off power and blocked roads.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing officials to mobilize resources in the flooded state’s southwest.
The deluge came two days after the record-breaking rain around St. Louis dropped more than 31 cm and killed at least two people.
Last month, heavy rainfall on mountain snow in Yellowstone National Park caused historic flooding and the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. In both cases, the rain and flooding were much greater than forecasters had predicted.
According to scientists, extreme rainfall events are becoming more common as climate change warms the planet and changes weather patterns.
That’s a growing challenge for officials during disasters, because models used to predict storm effects are based in part on past events and can’t keep up with the increasingly devastating flash floods and heatwaves like those that recently hit the Pacific Northwest and Southern Plains. affected.
“It’s a battle of extremes in the United States right now,” said University of Oklahoma meteorologist Jason Furtado. “These are things that we expect to happen because of climate change. … A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and that means you can produce more heavy rainfall.”