At Least 19 People Die as Flooding Devastates Eastern Kentucky

Flooding Thursday morning near Wolverine Road in Breathitt County, Kentucky. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS) — Six months after the last round of destruction, historic flooding again consumed Eastern Kentucky, taking at least 19 lives, trapping others in homes and buildings, and sending thousands to shelters in what’s becoming a devastating and disturbingly common disaster scene in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.

As of noon Friday, at least 19 deaths have been confirmed across the Eastern Kentucky counties impacted by Thursday’s flash flooding. 

On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, significant rainfall led to rising waters throughout Southeastern Kentucky, trapping residents in their homes and causing over 23,000 Kentuckians to lose power. 

According to the National Weather Service, the North Fork Kentucky River in Whitesburg rose to record-breaking heights on Thursday, reaching 20.19 feet at 10 a.m. and beating the previous record by 6 feet. The waters reached their peak at 2:30 a.m. Friday at 43.47 feet and are expected to recede to a more normal level by Sunday. 

The rain is supposed to stop Friday and Saturday, which will help relief efforts, although it is predicted to return Sunday through Tuesday.

Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency on Thursday morning, and on Friday, President Joe Biden declared the flooding a major disaster. 

Federal funding is now available for Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Wolfe counties, and the White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in the affected areas.

Some communities are still recovering from massive floods in January and February. The valleys and steep hills of Eastern Kentucky that make it more conducive to flash flooding. 

In Montgomery, Brittany Trejo said that her four young cousins, ranging in age from 1 to 8, were swept away from their parents’ grip in flooding Thursday.

By 12:30 p.m. Friday, the bodies of all four children had been recovered from the Knott County community of Montgomery, Trejo said. Kentucky State Police spokesman Shane Goodall confirmed a report of four missing children Thursday night but said he didn’t immediately have details.

Trejo said that the home of the four children in the Montgomery community filled with water Thursday.

“They got on the roof and the entire underneath washed out with them and the children. They managed to get to a tree and … held the children a few hours before a big tide came and wash them all away at the same time,” Trejo said. 

“The mother and father was stranded in the tree for 8 hours before anyone got there to help,” said Trejo. 

Kentucky State Police spokesman Shane Goodall said it’s impossible to have an exact count at this point due to many missing people, but more deaths are expected once the floodwaters recede.

Police are still rescuing people with helicopters in places no one can get to.

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