Krystal Holbrook’s family started moving possessions to higher ground long before dawn, racing to save them from the rapidly rising floodwaters that were menacing southeastern Kentucky.
Her family scurried in the dark to move vehicles, campers, trailers and equipment. But as the water kept rising Thursday — leaving at least 15 people dead and hundreds without homes in Kentucky -- they began to worry that they might run out of higher ground.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed Friday morning the death toll was up to 16, and could rise.
“We felt we had most of it moved out of the way,” Holbrook said. “But right now, we’re still moving vehicles even to higher ground. Higher ground is getting a little bit difficult.”
The same was true throughout the region, as another round of rainfall loomed in an area already hammered by days of torrential rainfall. The storm sent water gushing from hillsides and surging out of streambeds in Appalachia, inundating homes, businesses and roads. Rescue crews used helicopters and boats to pick up people trapped by floodwaters. Parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia were also hit by flooding.
Beshear asked for prayers as the region braced for more rain.
“In a word, this event is devastating,” Beshear said Thursday. “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.”
Beshear warned that property damage in Kentucky would be extensive and opened an online portal for donations that would go to residents affected by the flooding.
In Whitesburg, Kentucky, floodwaters seeped into Appalshop, an arts and education center renowned for promoting and preserving the region's history and culture.
“We’re not sure exactly the full damage because we haven’t been able to safely go into the building or really get too close to it," said Meredith Scalos, its communications director. “We do know that some of our archival materials have flooded out of the building into Whitesburg streets.”
Meanwhile, dangerous conditions and continued rainfall hampered rescue efforts Thursday, the governor said.
“We’ve got a lot of people that need help that we can’t get to at the moment,” he said. “We will.”
Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southern West Virginia, 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 southwest Virginia.
Poweroutage.us reported more than 33,000 customers without electricity in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.
Rescue crews worked feverishly to try to reach people trapped by the floodwaters.