At least 16 people have died in the “worst” flooding in Kentucky history, a number that could rise as the rain rages on Friday in this rural, central US state.
President Joe Biden declared the state a “natural disaster” and mobilized federal reinforcements to support areas hit by storms, floods, landslides and rivers of mud.
Torrential rains hit eastern Kentucky on Wednesday night, turning roads into rivers and forcing residents to seek refuge on the roofs of their homes while they waited for help.
Others were trapped, due to rising water levels, or ended up being dragged inside their cars.
“The hard news is that there are 16 confirmed dead now and folks, it’s still going to rise a lot more,” warned Governor Andy Beshear at a news conference.
“Some houses were completely swept away in the middle of the night, while people were sleeping,” he said.
Earlier, in statements to broadcaster CNN, Beshear had said that the number of victims is “devastating”, adding that his expectation is that this balance will be “more than double”.
Hundreds of people have lost everything, and it will take at least a year to rebuild, he added.
The emergency services, along with the National Guard, the police and reinforcements from neighboring states, are engaged in missions to help and rescue victims.
About 50 air rescues and hundreds were carried out using boats, according to Beshear. But there is a lot of water and the currents are so strong “that we cannot reach them all”.
The forecast indicates that the rain will continue until at least the night of this Friday, so the alert for floods remains in effect.
With global warming caused by man, the atmosphere starts to contain more water vapor, which increases the possibilities of heavy rains, explain the scientists.
These rains, associated with other factors, such as the waterproofing of the soil by urbanization, favor flooding.
Some parts of Kentucky recorded as much as 200 millimeters of rain in 24 hours, and in some places river levels suddenly rose several feet, causing flooding and causing rivers to veer out of their natural courses.
In the Jackson area, some roads have turned into streams, with abandoned cars here and there.
In its small forested valleys, muddy water flooded the grounds, of which, in some places, only the roofs of the houses and the tops of the trees were visible.
Thousands of people remain without electricity and running water. Sports gyms, churches and parks were turned into shelters.
“It’s the worst flooding in Kentucky history and it comes after the worst tornadoes in Kentucky history,” lamented Andy Beshear.
In December 2021, dozens of tornadoes caused destruction in five states in the central United States, mainly Kentucky, with at least 79 deaths.
At the time, Joe Biden said that weather phenomena had become “more intense” with global warming.