Heavy rains caused widespread flooding and destruction in eastern Kentucky on Thursday, July 28, 2022, leaving at least 37 people dead and many unaccounted for. Kentucky Governor, Andy Beshear, declared a state of emergency, calling this one of the most significant, deadly floods in the commonwealth’s history.
- The death toll rose to 25 on July 30, up from 16 on July 29. On August 1, it stood at 37. Unfortunately, officials fear the death toll will keep growing, possibly for weeks as rescue efforts continue across hard-to-reach areas.
- Local emergency was declared in the city of Hazard, and in the counties of Floyd, Breathitt, Clay, Owsley, Letcher, Perry and Pike.
- This is the second historic flooding to hit Kentucky’s Appalachian region in just 6 months.
Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where up to 203 mm (8 inches) of rain fell in 24 hours to 08:00 LT – nearly half of it in a matter of hours. Flash flooding was also reported in western Virginia and southern West Virginia.
“We’re currently experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history,” Beshear said Thursday.
“The situation is dynamic and ongoing. In most places, we are not seeing receding water. In fact, in most places, it is not crested yet.”
“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued,” the governor added. “There are a number of people that are unaccounted for and I’m nearly certain this is a situation where we are going to lose some of them.”
“Hundreds will lose their homes, and this is going to be yet another event where it’s going to take not months, but likely years, for many families to rebuild and recover,” Beshear said.
Heavy overnight rains overwhelmed creeks, streams and ground already saturated from previous rain, the National Weather Service said, adding that additional rainfall amounts of more than 25 mm (1 inch) are expected through Friday evening. Flood warnings in portions of eastern Kentucky have been extended, in some cases until Monday evening.1
“We’re watching pretty close and it’s not going to take too much to cause some additional flooding issues,” said NWS forecaster Dustin Jordan.
With rain continuing to come down, conditions are horrendous to help rescue those who need help, Perry County Sheriff Joe Engle said.
“We are having a very difficult time getting to people. Roads are blocked by trees, washed away completely or covered with water. It is now physically impossible to get to some people.”2
The National Weather Service said flooding on the North Fork of the Kentucky River at Whitesburg surged to a new record early Thursday, rising about 3.6 m (12 feet) in 12 hours from 21:00 on July 27 to 09:00 LT on July 28.
The river hit a high of 5.1 m (16.8 feet) early Thursday, breaking the previous record of 4.5 m (14.7 feet).
Additional rounds of excessive rainfall across parts of the Ohio/Tennessee Valleys are expected to trigger areas of flash flooding today, NWS forecaster Kebede said, adding that daily rounds of heavy downpours could cause flash flooding from Arizona to the Mid-South region over the next few days.
Embedded shortwave energy moving from the Central Plains into the Ohio Valley will be the driving force behind Flash flooding threats this weekend.3
A surface front extending from the Central Plains to the Northeast will be the focus for heavy rainfall leading to flash flooding today, with the heaviest rainfall likely to occur over the panhandles of Texas/Oklahoma, where a couple of inches of rain may lead to flash flooding.
A moderate risk (level 3/4) is in effect for portions of that area, as well as parts of West Virginia into eastern Kentucky.
A multi-day precipitation event over the Ohio Valley is responsible for the moderate risk over West Virginia/Kentucky.
The death toll was at 16 late Friday, July 29. Unfortunately, by early Saturday morning, it rose to 25.4
Nearly 300 people have been rescued, of them about 100 by aircraft.
Officials fear the death toll might keep growing, possibly for weeks as rescue efforts continue across hard-to-reach areas.
There’s still a lot of people unaccounted for, Beshear said. “We are going to do our best to find them all.”
The death toll increased to 37 on August 1, with many more still missing.
1 At least 8 dead in eastern Kentucky flooding, and ‘hundreds will lose their homes,’ governor says – CNN – July 29, 2022
2 Flooding devastates parts of Eastern Kentucky, leaving death and destruction in its wake – Lexington Herald Leader – July 29, 2022
3 Short Range Forecast Discussion – NWS Weather Prediction Center College Park MD – 428 AM EDT Fri Jul 29 2022
4 Search for Victims Continues in Kentucky After Floods Kill at Least 25 – NY Times – July 30, 2022
Featured image credit: Live Storm Media
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