Another round of rainstorms hit flooded Kentucky mountain communities on Monday as more bodies emerged from the sodden landscape, and the governor warned that high winds could bring another threat – falling trees and utility poles.
Governor Andy Beshear said the death toll rose to 35, and hundreds of people remained unaccounted for five days after one of the country’s poorest regions was swamped by nearly a foot of rain. The water poured down hillsides and into valleys and hollows, engulfing entire towns. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.
Radar indicated that up to four more inches (10.2 centimetres) of rain fell on Sunday, and the National Weather Service warned that slow-moving showers and thunderstorms could provoke more flash flooding through Tuesday morning.
“If things weren’t hard enough on the people of this region, they’re getting rain right now,” Mr. Beshear said on Monday at the Capitol in Frankfort. “Just as concerning is high winds – think about how saturated the ground has been – it could knock over poles, it could knock over trees. So people need to be careful.”
An approaching heat wave means “it’s even going to get tougher when the rain stops,” the governor said. “It’s going to get really hot, and we need to make sure people are ultimately stable by that point.”
More than 12,000 customers remained without power, many because their homes and businesses have been destroyed or are unfit for habitation. At least 300 people were staying in shelters.
The floods were unleashed last week when eight to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimetres) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.
The disaster was the latest in a string of catastrophic deluges that have pounded parts of the U.S. this summer, including St. Louis. Scientists warn that climate change is making such events more common.
The floodwaters also swept away some of the region’s irreplaceable history. Appalshop, a cultural centre known for chronicling Appalachian life, was assessing extensive damage at its repository, where historic documents and artifacts were flushed out of the building.
While touring the disaster area on Sunday, Mr. Beshear said he saw how people have been helping their neighbours.
“These are amazing folks. They’re hurting, but they’re strong. And it’s amazing to see them helping each other, even when they’ve got nothing left,” he said.
About 400 people have been rescued by helicopter, according to General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau.
“In light of the devastation, the response is going pretty well,” he said on Sunday.
The governor cancelled a trip to Israel that was scheduled for later this week, saying he could not travel overseas “while the people of eastern Kentucky are suffering.”
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