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Double-digit death toll expected amid 'devastating' downpour in Eastern Kentucky

flooding
Governor's Office

A catastrophic deluge in Eastern Kentucky is being called one of the “most devastating” flood events in the state’s history.

"This isn't just a disaster. It's an ongoing natural disaster. We are in the midst of it," Gov. Andy Beshear warned early in his Thursday Team Kentucky update.

The governor gave a sobering update on the situation, after more than 8 inches of rain dumped on eastern parts of the state, overwhelming waterways, flooding homes and schools, and sending residents scrambling in more than half a dozen counties. Beshear described harrowing scenes witnessed by National Guard rescuers.

"They see a number of people in Breathitt County alone on the roof, even we have some people in trees hanging on, waiting for rescue."
Gov. Andy Beshear

As of Thursday afternoon, at least three deaths had been confirmed, but Beshear warned the toll is expected to rise.

"Unfortunately, I expect double-digit deaths in this flooding," he cautioned. "That's something we rarely see."

Tens of thousands were left without power. Meanwhile hundreds are expected to lose their homes and recovery could take months, if not years, in some communities.

Currently the Guard is being joined by emergency responders from in and outside of Kentucky as authorities try to stay ahead of additional rainfall expected tonight. Major General Hal Lamberton with the Kentucky National Guard said the goal is not only to continue ongoing rescue efforts but to anticipate how the situation could change if rainfall resumes.

"What we're striving to do is get ahead of this, so... provide more resources, not just waiting until there's an incident or an event that requires some sort of response to it, but pushing resources to the impacted area," he reported.

But the situation is already placing extreme demands on the region’s resources and the emergency services attempting to get residents to safety.

"We have not just an all-of-state-government response, but we've got governmental response from our neighboring states, from our brothers and sisters in the adjacent National Guard states, from other organizations that are even beyond the commonwealth's borders," Lamberton added.

Among the Kentucky counties reporting flash flooding are: Breathitt, Leslie, Letcher, Knott, Magoffin, Perry, Pike, and Wolfe.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.