HAZARD, Ky. – Shirley Stamper, 74 years old, woke up to a loud thumping below her house. Floodwaters are swallowing her remote mountain community and Ms Stamper, along with her mother-in-law, Ethel Stamper, 94, need to get out immediately.
Not long after, as the surrounding water rose rapidly, Ms Stamper found herself standing barefoot in the mud, almost naked, when National Guard helicopter rescuers urged her to climb. go on the boat. She turned to her mother-in-law.
“I said, ‘Ethel, are you getting on that helicopter? “Miss Stamper recalls Friday, sitting in the auditorium of the Gospel Light Baptist Church with dozens of others who became homeless during the devastation that devastated the area. “She said, ‘Yes, I am.”
Rain continued to fall in parts of eastern Kentucky on Friday, and creeks and rivers were still swelling. But where the floodwaters are receding, the devastation of the past two days is coming slowly but terrifyingly in sight. At least 25 people have died, according to reports from the governor’s office and local officials.
Governor Andy Beshear has said repeatedly that the number will almost certainly increase.
In the rough terrain of central Appalachian, many places remained divided as of Friday, and determining the extent of the devastation could take weeks. More rain is forecast early next week, adding to the urgency of rescue efforts. “We have to act quickly after the water recedes tomorrow,” said Mr. Beshear. “Definitely before it rains again”.
In Breathitt County, Jeffrey Noble, chief judge, said the storm and flooding knocked phones out for miles around. Even in Jackson County, he said, major roads and arteries were congested.
“They say about 250 people are missing,” he said. “I don’t even want to talk about deaths. I’ve heard two different numbers, and I hope both are wrong.”
He was moved by the stories he had heard from the people of the county as well as the things he witnessed with his own eyes, including a truck he witnessed when it was swept away by water in the middle of the night.
“Houses are washed away, communities are washed away, roads are washed away,” Mr. Noble said. “I have heard of floods for hundreds of years, but this goes beyond that. In the history of Kentucky, our county has never seen anything like this.”
On Friday, the death toll rose throughout the day. Perry County Emergency Management Director, Jerry Stacy, said the county’s toll rose from one to four victims by evening. Breathitt County coroner Hargis Epperson said at least three people in the county have been confirmed dead in the flood, with at least a dozen people missing. And Knott County coroner Corey Watson, who was working in a large garage at a local funeral home, said Friday that he had confirmed 14 deaths, up from 11 this morning. that day.
Mr Watson added: “There are still people unaccounted for.
What was learned on Friday was heartbreaking. Among the dead were at least six children, including four from a family.
Riley Noble Jr., 6, and Nevaeh Noble, 4, were found on Thursday, and on Friday their siblings, Maddison Noble, 8, and Chance Noble, 1, were discovered, all are all 50 yards apart, a relative, Brittany Trejo, said.
When their parents received the fast food alert at 2am on Thursday, the family had only minutes to escape, Ms. Trejo said, recounting what she was told to her cousin Amber Smith, mother of a 23 year old child.
Within the few minutes that Miss Smith was able to dress the children, water began to flood their mobile home. Ms. Trejo said the family climbed onto the roof of the trailer in the dark to wait for the flood to wash it away, but they were only there for a very short time before realizing that their home was about to be swept away. “
Holding the older children’s hands and hugging the younger ones tightly, the family “drifted” from the top of their trailer down to a nearby tree, she said. There they clung to each other, watching their house drift away and calling for help. However, the water still rose higher. And “one by one,” said Ms. Trejo, four children were pulled from the tree by the current. Ms. Trejo said: “The rage of the water took their children. After about 8 hours holding on to the tree to sustain life, the father and son were rescued by a stranger in a kayak.
“They are very loving, caring and well behaved with children,” said Ms. Trejo. “They like things that all kids like.”
Mr. Beshear told reporters that the National Guard, State Police and other state agencies were supporting search and rescue efforts, including about 50 air rescues and hundreds of rescues. rescue by boat. Nearly 300 people have been rescued across the state, he said, about 100 of whom have been airlifted to safety.
Many of the flood survivors were threatened by the isolation that followed. Roads were washed away or buried in landslides, trapping residents, many of them elderly and in poor health, in flood-ravaged valleys without water or electricity. According to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities, about 20,000 customers were without power in the worst-affected counties in Kentucky on Friday night.
In the mountains of central Appalachian, floods can be frighteningly sudden, with water rushing down barren hillsides, being mined or dumped during summer thunderstorms. Families who live along creeks in depressions often have little warning and few escape routes, which is why flooding in the area has been so deadly in the past. But Thursday’s flood was the worst in local memory.
“I’ve talked to a number of people over the last few days, 70s, 80s, and none of them remember anything like this,” said Jeff Hawkins, who has lived for 52 years in a vacant lot in New York. Letcher County, now lined with flooded buildings and flooded trucks.
The relative remoteness of many towns in central Appalachia presents a challenge in times like these, but it also promotes a particular kind of self-reliance. As the water rose on Thursday, neighbors darted into the floodwaters on their boats to find people in need of rescue.
After the worst was over on Thursday morning, Jamie and Julie Hatton stepped out of their home in Whitesburg to a city that in many places is still submerged. They set out to rescue a friend in a kayak, only to hear that more people were trapped when they reached the edge of the floodwaters.
Kayaks had proven unsuitable for fast currents, Hatton said, and soon people showed up on their motorboats. Hatton, the Letcher County attorney, estimated he spent about six hours helping with water rescue operations on Thursday.
“He was desperate at the time,” said Mrs. Hatton.
Friday’s focus was on the cost of human life, but floodwaters have also destroyed irreplaceable archives of eastern Kentucky culture. Rising water in Whitesburg, a cultural hub of this part of the Appalachians, engulfed the buildings of the Appalshop, a 53-year-old arts and education center, inundated radio studios and exhibition spaces, and send the archives out to Main Street.
In the small Hindman town of Knott County, the Appalachian Sculpture Vocational School, where craftsmen learn the art of making carvings, says Christy Boyd, development director of the Appalachian Artisan Center. other stringed instruments, were ruined.
Miss Boyd said: “There aren’t many geeks anymore. “So when you lose something, it’s not just money; it cannot be replaced because no one does it. A similar observation can be made of many small towns throughout central Appalachian, which had been slowly dying for decades before they were engulfed in a sudden flood. “We have almost nothing, and lose what you have,” she said, emphatically.
In a hotel in Letcher County, Jeannie Adams gathered with her family and husband, nervous about what the coming days might bring. The previous morning, she and her son had waded from the front porch through increasingly deep water.
“I am afraid,” she said. “And I said, ‘Come back.’ But there is no going back. The current pulled us apart. And as a mother, that was. …”
She stopped to collect herself. “It was horrifying,” she said.
Along a tree-lined embankment where railroad tracks once ran, they managed to escape the flooded depression to safety. But they lost their home and almost everything in it. “There are a lot of us who have lost everything they had except the shirt on their back,” Ms. Adams said. “And we need help. Desperate, some of us desperately need help.”
Maham Javaid, Shawn Hubler, Jesus Jimenez, Serge F. Kovaleski and McKenna Oxenden contribution report.