The death toll from last week’s devastating flooding in Kentucky rose to 30 Monday as a round of severe storms threatens to bring further rainfall, high winds and even flash flooding to residents still trying to find their footing.
At a press conference Monday morning, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said that five days after the flooding began, a minimum of “hundreds” of people remain unaccounted for in the state. The death toll is still expected to rise as search efforts continue this week.
“That’s going to grow,” he said. “We know about additional bodies beyond these 30 confirmed.”
Rain and flood warnings, as well as a threat of high winds and hail, are complicating recovery and search efforts, Beshear said. All areas of the state impacted by the flooding are under severe storm potential Monday.
Workers are attempting to determine what lakes and infrastructure have been damaged, and Beshear said some areas may not be able to get running water for months.
Here’s what we know.
Weather complicating recovery and temporary shelter
The storm poses a threat of damaging winds and low chances of hails and tornados, according to the National Weather Service, and Kentucky is among the states Monday at a slight risk for excessive rainfall leading to flash flooding. Trees are expected to fall with wind gusts because of weakened root systems.
The National Weather Service said radar indicated up to four inches of rain fell Sunday in some parts of the state.
Beshear also shared concerns about high temperatures for residents once storms subside, especially those who haven’t yet found stable shelter.
“People need to be careful and it’s going to get even tougher,” Beshear said. “When the rain stops, it’s going to get really hot and we need to make sure people are ultimately stable by that point in time.”
With houses swept away in the flood and school buildings ruined, many Kentuckians have lost all of their belongings and safe housing. About 150 residents displaced by the flooding were being temporarily housed at state parks and at least the same number are at Red Cross shelters as of Monday, Beshear said. “We’re just reaching that point where people need a bed.”
Progress continues in rescue efforts
In areas where bridges have been damaged or wiped out completely, rescuers are attempting to problem solve how to reach people stuck on the other side of rivers and creeks, Beshear said.
Workers are airlifting water to those unable to be reached safely by rescuers, while also focusing on emergency housing, according to Beshear. Search and rescue crews are still actively working to identify those reported missing and search them out.
“I anticipate that we will continue with that for at least the next couple days, though we’re certainly working on the emergency housing at the same time,” Beshear said.
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, said about 400 people have been rescued by National Guard helicopter as of Sunday. He estimated that the guard had rescued close to 20 by boat from hard-to-access areas.
At least 12,000 people in the region remain without power, down from almost twice that number at the start of the flooding. Beshear estimates it will take millions of dollars to recover infrastructure that was lost in eastern Kentucky counties.
Water at the door, nowhere to go
As roaring floodwaters rose around her, Jessica Willett cut an electric cord off a vacuum cleaner and bound herself to her two children.
The 34-year-old heard loud pops and cracks as the force of the deluge fractured her manufactured home perched on Bowling Creek, a remote and steep-sided Kentucky holler. The floor bowed and water poured in. Her car parked outside was swept away.
Huddling with her 3-year-old son Isaiah and 11-year-old daughter Nevaeh in a bedroom, Willett felt the home move off its foundation. She hoped the mattress might float. And she prayed that being tied up might keep her kids from being swept alone down a torrent filled with trees, metal sheeting and cars.
“I can at least try to save them,” she said. “If they find us, they’ll find us together.”
Contributing: The Associated Press; staff at the Louisville Courier Journal