Amanda Rossmann/Mail Journal via AP
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The rain that triggered massive flooding in mountain communities across Appalachia eased Tuesday, leaving survivors facing a new threat: baking in the heat as they attempt to recover.
“It’s going to be really, really hot. And now is our new weather challenge,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during his Tuesday morning briefing on the disaster.
The death toll rose to 37 on Tuesday after more bodies were found in the ruined landscape on Monday, and while more than 1,300 people have been rescued, crews were still trying to reach some people who remain isolated by floods or landslides, he said. Hundreds of people remain missing, a number that is expected to drop once cell phone service is restored and people can tell themselves they are alive.
“It’s absolutely devastating there. It’s going to take years to rebuild. People left with absolutely nothing. Houses that we don’t know where they are are completely gone. And we continue to find the bodies of our brothers and sisters that we have lost,” Beshear said.
The National Weather Service warned that downpours and slow-moving thunderstorms could cause more flash flooding through Tuesday morning along waterways swollen by Sunday’s heavy rains, a dismal coda to last week’s historic flooding. That includes communities just across the state line in Virginia and West Virginia, where some people have also been left without power.
Michael Clevenger/Mail Journal via AP)
Cooling stations are being installed in buildings that were spared flooding as more than 9,600 customers remain without power in eastern Kentucky, Beshear said.
“With the heat rising, we put out the call for cooling stations. And they were installed in time, in fact before this heat. We can, for the first time, be ahead of the weather,” said he declared.
“I know you might be working there to salvage whatever you can. But be very careful on Wednesday and Thursday when it’s hot,” the governor said. “We’re bringing water in truckloads. We’ll make sure we have enough for you. But you’re going to need somewhere cool at least to take a break.”
For hundreds of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, this place was an emergency shelter. As of Tuesday, nearly 430 people were staying in 11 of those shelters and another 191 were temporarily housed in state parks, Beshear said.
President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to flooded counties after 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of the east Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.
The disaster was the latest in a series of catastrophic deluges that have hit parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis. Scientists warn that climate change is making such events more frequent.
Chris Campbell, president of Letcher’s Funeral Home in Whitesburg, said his 90-year-old grandmother lost the entire home she had lived in since 1958. She managed to escape to a neighbor’s house with just a few photos. Everything else is gone. And now he’s handling funeral arrangements for people he knows personally, like a 67-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack trying to escape rising waters.
“These people, we mostly know them. We’re a small community,” he said of the town about 110 miles (177 kilometers) southeast of Lexington. “It affects everyone.”