The death toll from last week’s devastating flooding in Kentucky rose to 37 on Monday evening as another 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 news 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.
More rain, as well as the possibility of isolated flooding a damaging wind, is expected into Monday afternoon, Beshear said in a video posted to Twitter. The governor encouraged residents to stay away from flooded areas and take shelter on higher ground.
“Our goal moving into tonight is that everybody gets into a safe place,” he said. “We don’t want to have to search for any people that are safe right now.”
Meanwhile, multiple reports of looting in Breathitt County and the nearby city of Hindman, Kentucky, led to nighttime curfews within some communities Sunday.
Here’s what we know.
Two more deaths have been recorded following the massive floods, bringing the death count up to 37 on Monday evening, Beshear announced on Twitter.
“Hundreds” are still unaccounted for, the governor said earlier Monday, and the death toll was expected to grow even more.
Only one day earlier, the death toll was 26, according to Beshear.
Weather complicating recovery and temporary shelter
The latest storm poses a threat of damaging winds and low chances of hail and tornadoes, 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 area is in for another round of showers and thunderstorms Monday night that could linger over the southeastern counties through the day Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
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.
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.”
Reports of ‘excessive looting’ lead to curfews
As the recovery process continues, multiple reports of looting led to nighttime curfews within some communities.
A countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. was implemented Sunday evening in Breathitt County; there were exceptions only for emergency vehicles, first responders and people traveling for work.
“I hate to have to impose a curfew, but looting will absolutely not be tolerated. Our friends and neighbors have lost so much – we cannot stand by and allow them to lose what they have left,” County Attorney Brendon Miller said in a Facebook post.
“Excessive looting” resulted in Hindman, Kentucky, Mayor Tracy Neice imposing a strict sunset curfew for city residents.
“If you are taking advantage of people in their time of need, you are sick,” Neice said. “You will not hurt my people. You just won’t.”
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.
The rain returned in fits and starts early Sunday afternoon as search and rescue crews made an important, yet grim, discovery in Perry County, Kentucky.
A body was found and then eventually pulled from Troublesome Creek along Kentucky Route 476, south of Ary.
And the crackling radios and quick chitchat among the emergency personnel indicated a second body had been pulled farther down the creek.
Several responders soon emerged from a thicket of trees blocking part of the creek, pulling a sled container carrying a black body bag up the embankment.
Water at the door, nowhere to go: A story of one woman’s survival
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: Louisville Courier-Journal; The Associated Press