At least eight people are dead in Eastern Kentucky after heavy rains pounded the state on Thursday, flooding roads and towns and forcing rescuers to save people stranded on rooftops and in trees.
The governor’s office declared a state of emergency that covered the whole state on Thursday, while at least seven counties also declared their own states of emergency. In a press conference on Thursday, Governor Andy Beshear said he anticipated the death toll would reach at least the double digits.
“In a word, this event is devastating,” he said. “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.”
‘An Ongoing Natural Disaster’
As of Friday, at least 30 people had been rescued, while floodwaters hampered rescue efforts for others. The forecast in Eastern Kentucky calls for more rain Friday, with a flood watch in effect until the afternoon. Rainfall will return Sunday after a brief break on Saturday. The additional precipitation could make ongoing aid even more difficult.
“We’re gonna have more rain tonight in some areas,” Beshear said on Thursday. “This isn’t just a disaster, this is an ongoing natural disaster.”
Heavy Rainfall Across Region
Some areas of the state saw between 7 and 8 inches (18 and 20 centimetres) of rain Thursday, according to National Weather Service data, while the town of Hazard received more than 8 inches (20 centimetres) in just 12 hours, Axios reports. The record for the most rain in the state over a 24-hour period, 10.48 inches (26.6 centimetres), was set in 1997. Jackson had its second-wettest day on record on Wednesday, with 4.11 inches (10.4 centimetres) of rain.
Rainfall Exceeds Expectations
Meteorologist Alex Lamers tweeted that the rainfall in Hazard “is more than double (!) the 1-in-100 average annual chance threshold, and a couple inches beyond even the 1-in-1000 threshold.”
Heavier Rains Are a Result of Climate Change
The flooding in Kentucky comes just two days after intense rains in St. Louis, Missouri killed at least two people, shut down highways and roads, and broke regional records. Intense rainfall events around the world are expected to increase as the planet warms, since warmer air can hold more moisture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report issued last year found that heavier rains around the world are now 30% more likely than they used to be. The U.S. National Climate Assessment found that, in the Northeast and Midwest U.S., the amount of precipitation that could come with a heavy rainfall event could increase by 30% by the end of the century if the planet continues to warm.
Beshear Says Climate Change Is Real
“I believe climate change is real,” Beshear told reporters. “I believe that it is causing more severe weather. With that said, I don’t know about this one and whether it is or is not connected, and I don’t want to cheapen or politicize what these folks are going through.”
‘Going to Take Some Time to Rebuild’
More than 25,000 households were without power Thursday, Beshear said. Beshear said Friday that he had asked for federal assistance to help with recovery efforts.
“There are going to be a lot of people out there that need our help,” Beshear said. “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.”
People Still Missing
Lesia Watkins, who lives near Jackson, told the Washington Post that the water level, which reached up to her porch, was the highest she’d seen. She said she had multiple friends who she hadn’t been able to get in touch with since the floods started the day before.
‘Don’t Take Nothing for Granted’
“Love your loved ones a little tighter,” Watkins said to the Washington Post. “Hug them a little tighter. Don’t take a day for granted. Don’t take nothing for granted.”