TOP STORIES Heavy rains cause flooding and power outages in Appalachia

Heavy rains cause flooding and power outages in Appalachia

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This image courtesy of Marlene Abner Stokely shows flooding at Buckhorn Logs Cathedral on Thursday in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

Marlene Abner Stockley/AP


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Marlene Abner Stockley/AP


This image courtesy of Marlene Abner Stokely shows flooding at Buckhorn Logs Cathedral on Thursday in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

Marlene Abner Stockley/AP

Rescuers lifted people from rooftops amid rapidly rising waters Thursday in central Appalachia, where heavy rains caused what the Kentucky governor called one of the worst floods in the state’s history.

One emergency responder in hard-hit eastern Kentucky called the situation “catastrophic” as rescue crews searched for stranded people. Gov. Andy Beshear said hundreds of homes could be destroyed.

“What we’re going to see as a result of this is massive property damage,” Beshear said during a briefing on Thursday. “We expect people to die. Hundreds will lose their homes and this will be another event, many families will not be rebuilt and rebuilt in months, but most likely years.”

Flash floods and landslides have been reported in the mountainous regions of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and southern West Virginia, where several inches of rain have been dropped by thunderstorms over the past few days.

Poweroutage.us reported that more than 20,000 customers were without power in eastern Kentucky and nearly 10,000 more in neighboring states.

“We are currently experiencing one of the worst and most devastating floods in Kentucky history,” Beshear said. “The situation is dynamic and ongoing. In most places we don’t see water receding. In fact, in most places it hasn’t peaked yet.”

“In eastern Kentucky, there are a lot of people on rooftops waiting to be rescued,” the governor added. “There are a few missing and I’m pretty sure this is a situation where we’re going to lose some of them.”

Rescue crews worked through the night helping people stranded by rising water levels in eastern Kentucky’s Perry County, where emergency director Jerry Stacy called it a “catastrophic event.”

“We’re in rescue mode right now,” Stacey told the Associated Press on the phone as he struggled to get to his Hazard office. “Extreme flash floods and landslides are happening everywhere.”

The storms hit the mountainous Appalachian region, where communities and homes are built on steep hillsides or in dells in between, where the only flat land is often surrounded by creeks and creeks that can rise quickly. But it’s much worse than a normal flood, said Stacey, 54.

“I have lived here in Perry County my entire life and this is by far the worst event I have ever seen,” he said.

Roads in many areas became impassable after up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain fell in some areas by Thursday, with another 1 to 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) likely to fall, according to the National Weather Service.

Beshear said he sent National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas, and three parks in the region were opened as shelters for displaced people.

In Perry, Leslie and Clay counties in Kentucky, people in the lowlands were urged to seek higher ground after several quick water rescues. The Brethitt County Courthouse opened overnight, and emergency director Chris Frehley said the Montessori old school would provide a more permanent shelter once the crews could staff it.

“This is the worst we’ve had in a long time,” Frehley told WKYT-TV, “it’s all over the county again. There are several places that are still inaccessible to rescue teams.”

Perry County dispatchers told WKYT-TV that floodwaters washed away roads and bridges and blew homes off their foundations. The city of Hazard said rescue crews were out all night, urging people on Facebook to stay off the roads and “pray for a break when it rains.”

In West Virginia’s Greenbrier County, firefighters pulled people from flooded homes, and five vacationers stranded by flooding in Nicholas County were rescued by the Keslers Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department, WCHS-TV reported.

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