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Floods leave eight dead in Kentucky as devastating rain lashes Appalachia

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Show caption Rescues under way in Wayland, Kentucky. Photograph: Floyd County Sheriff’s Department US weather Floods leave eight dead in Kentucky as devastating rain lashes Appalachia Rescue crews search for stranded people amid flooding, mudslides and power outages across the mountainous region Associated Press in Frankfort, Kentucky Fri 29 Jul 2022 00.50 BST Share on Facebook

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Torrential rains unleashed devastating floods in Appalachia on Thursday, as fast-rising water killed at least eight people in Kentucky and sent people scurrying to rooftops to be rescued.

Water gushed from hillsides and flooded out of streambeds, inundating houses, businesses and roads throughout eastern Kentucky. Parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia also saw extensive flooding. Rescue crews used helicopters and boats to pick up people trapped by floodwaters.

Andy Beshear, governor of Kentucky, tweeted on Thursday evening that the state’s death toll from flooding had risen to eight. He asked for continued prayers for the region, which was bracing for more rain.

“In a word, this event is devastating,” Beshear said earlier in the day. “And I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant, deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.”

In Breathitt county, Kentucky, Krystal Holbrook’s family raced against surging floodwaters in the early morning hours to move possessions to higher ground. Their ordeal began around 4am on Thursday, as they scurried in the dark to move vehicles, campers, trailers and farm equipment. But as the water kept rising throughout the day, the concern was that “higher ground is getting a little bit difficult”, she said.

“It looks like a huge lake back here,” she said.

Members of the Winchester, Kentucky, fire department walk inflatable boats across flood waters over State Road 15 in Jackson to pick up stranded people. Photograph: Timothy D Easley/AP

Beshear warned that property damage in Kentucky would be widespread. The governor said officials were setting up a site for donations that would go to residents affected by the flooding.

Dangerous conditions and continued rainfall hampered rescue efforts on Thursday, the governor said.

“We’ve got a lot of people that need help that we can’t get to at the moment,” Beshear said. “We will.”

Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region, where thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain over the past few days.

With more rain expected in the area, the National Weather Service said additional flooding was possible into Friday in much of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and south-west Virginia. Forecasters said the highest threat of flash flooding was expected to shift farther east into West Virginia.

Poweroutage.us reported more than 31,000 customers without electricity in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.

Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter, Adelynn Bowling, as her property is inundated by the north fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson. Photograph: Timothy D Easley/AP

“There are a lot of people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued,” Beshear said earlier on Thursday. “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.”

Rescue crews worked through the night helping people stranded in eastern Kentucky’s Perry county, where the emergency management director, Jerry Stacy, described a “catastrophic event”.

“We’re just in the rescue mode right now,” Stacy said, speaking as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard. “Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere.”

The storms hit a region where towns and houses are built on steep hillsides or in hollows between them, where the only flat land often shoulders creeks and streams that can rise in a hurry.

But this one was far worse than a typical flood, said Stacy.

Houses submerged under flood waters from the north fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky. Photograph: Leandro Lozada/AFP/Getty Images

“I’ve lived here in Perry county all my life and this is by the far the worst event I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Roads in many areas were not passable after as much as 6in of rain fell in some areas by Thursday, and 1in to 3in more could fall, the National Weather Service said.

Beshear said he had deployed national guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas. Three parks in the region were opened as shelters for displaced people.

In Perry, Leslie and Clay counties, people in low areas were urged to seek higher ground after multiple swift water rescues. Breathitt county’s courthouse was opened overnight and its emergency management director, Chris Friley, said the Old Montessori school would provide more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.

“It’s the worst we’ve had in quite a while,” Friley told WKYT-TV. “It’s county-wide again. There’s several spots that are still not accessible to rescue crews.”

Perry county dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked houses off foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night, urging people to stay off roads and “pray for a break in the rain”.

In Greenbrier county, West Virginia, firefighters pulled people from flooded houses and five campers who got stranded in Nicholas county were rescued, WCHS-TV reported.

Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia after severe thunderstorms this week caused significant local flooding, downed trees, power outages and blocked roads.