At least 25 dead after flash floods batter Kentucky

Dozens have been killed following flash flooding in the US state of Kentucky. Vincent McAviney reports.

The governor of Kentucky said it could take weeks to find all the victims of flash flooding that killed at least 25 people - including at least four children - after torrential rains swamped towns across Appalachia.

Andy Beshear said on Saturday that the numbers of victims would likely rise significantly as a result of record flash flooding over the past several days. His comments come as rescue crews struggle to get into hard-hit areas, some of them among the poorest places in America.

A Perry County school bus lies destroyed after being caught up in the floodwaters of Lost Creek in Ned, Kentucky. Credit: AP

Beshear says crews have made more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats. Flooding swelled creeks and streams coursing through small towns, engulfing homes and businesses. The flooding also extended into western Virginia and southern West Virginia.

Some residents of Appalachia returned to flood-ravaged homes and communities on Saturday to shovel mud and debris and to salvage what they could.

Members of the local Mennonite community remove mud filled debris from homes following flooding at Ogden Hollar in Hindman. Credit: AP

Hubert Thomas, 60, and his nephew Harvey, 37, fled after floodwaters destroyed their home in Pine Top in eastern Kentucky late on Wednesday night.

The two were able to rescue their dog, CJ, but fear the damages to the home are beyond repair. Hubert Thomas, a retired coal miner, said his entire life savings were invested in his home. “I’ve got nothing now,” he said. Harvey Thomas, an EMT, said he fell asleep to the sound of light rain, and it wasn’t long until his uncle woke him up warning him that water was getting dangerously close to the house. “It was coming inside and it just kept getting worse,” he said, “like there was, at one point, we looked at the front door and mine and his cars was playing bumper cars, like bumper boats in the middle of our front yard.”

Men ride in a boat along flooded Wolverine Road in Breathitt County. Credit: Lexington Herald-Leader via AP

The deluge came two days after record rains around St. Louis, Missouri, dropped more than 12 inches (31 centimetres) and killed at least two people. Last month, heavy rain on mountain snow in Yellowstone National Park triggered historic flooding and the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. In both instances, the rain flooding far exceeded what forecasters predicted.

Extreme rain events have become more common as climate change bakes the planet and alters weather patterns, according to scientists. 

In the wake of the floods in Kentucky, President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen counties in the state.

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