Death toll climbs as floods expected to worsen

Beshear said the number of confirmed flood-related fatalities rose to 16 from 15, including at least six children, and that the death toll would almost certainly climb as floodwaters recede and search teams find more bodies.

“There’s still a lot of people unaccounted for,” he said, declining to quantify the number missing. “We may be updating the count of how many we lost for the next several weeks.”

The floods resulted from downpours of 13 to 25 cm of rain that fell over the region in 24 hours, a deluge that may prove unprecedented in the region’s record books, said William Haneberg, an environmental sciences professor and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey.

“It’s a truly epic event,” Haneberg said.

The disaster came two weeks after rain-triggered flash floods inundated the riverfront Appalachian community of Whitewood in south-western Virginia near the Kentucky border.

The region’s steep hillsides and narrow valleys make it prone to flooding, but the increasing frequency and severity of rain-caused floods in the Appalachian region are symptomatic of human-induced climate change, Haneberg said.

Flood events “are going to be more extreme and frequent, but it’s hard to predict how extreme and how frequent they will be in the future,” he said in an interview.

In the US West, heavy rains battered Las Vegas, where floodwater washed over streets and rushed onto several casino floors and into car parks along the famed Las Vegas Strip, video posted on local media and social media showed.

People navigate the rainy walkways as some power is out in Las Vegas.Credit:Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP

At Circa Casino, workers tried to sweep the water away from the flooded floor, while at Planet Hollywood, water rained down on a casino table from what appeared to be a hole in the ceiling.

In Garrett, Kentucky, a coal-mining town about 200 km east of Lexington, brown floodwaters swirled through a commercial street and backed up against storefronts, video clips showed. Rescue boats carried people wearing life jackets along the submerged street, past the tops of vehicles poking through the high water.

“Everything is gone,” Garrett resident Rachel Patton told WCHS-TV as she cried. “We had to swim out and it was cold. It was over my head. It was scary.”

On Friday afternoon, some 22,000 homes and businesses in Kentucky and 2200 in West Virginia were without power, according to Poweroutage.us. Widespread outages to natural gas service, water treatment and communication networks were also reported, the governor said.

Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter Adelynn Bowling watches as her property becomes covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River.

Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter Adelynn Bowling watches as her property becomes covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River.Credit:AP

Flood warnings and watches remained in effect throughout the day for the eastern half of Kentucky, as well as northeastern Tennessee and western West Virginia, where more rainfall was expected to swell waterways already well above flood stage, the National Weather Service said.

As much as 30 cm of rain has fallen in parts of the region over the last week, according to the weather service.

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Kentucky, allowing federal funding to be allocated to the state.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency for six counties in his state, where heavy rains caused flooding that disrupted drinking water systems and blocked roads.

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