Appalachian floods kill at least 16 in Kentucky

Powerful floodwaters overwhelm homes in one of the poorest regions in the US

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At least 16 people have died in the south-eastern US state of Kentucky, a toll that is expected to grow considerably, as rescue teams search for people missing after devastating floods hit one of the poorest regions in the country.

“The tough news is 16 confirmed fatalities now, and folks that’s going to get a lot higher,” Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said.

Towns near creeks and streams in the Appalachian valleys were overwhelmed by powerful floodwaters that swamped homes and business and destroyed vehicles.

At least 33,000 people were without power on Friday morning.

Emergency crews made close to 50 air rescues and hundreds of water rescues on Thursday, with more people still needed help.

“This is not only a continuing disaster but a continuing search and rescue. The water is not going to crest in some areas until tomorrow,” Mr Beshear said on Friday.

Determining the number of people unaccounted for is difficult with mobile phone networks and electricity out across the disaster area.

“This is so widespread, it’s a challenge on even local officials to put that number together,” he said.

More than 200 people have sought shelter, Mr Beshear said. He deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas.

Mr Beshear said President Joe Biden had called to express his support for the state's recovery effort. The governor predicted it would take more than a year to fully rebuild the affected region.

Mr Biden also issued a federal disaster declaration that would provide relief money to more than a dozen counties in Kentucky.

The governor postponed plans on Friday to tour the area affected by the disaster because of “unsafe air travel conditions”, his office said.

Torrential flooding also reached portions of western Virginia and poverty-stricken southern West Virginia. Emergencies were declared in both states.

Hundreds of families lost all their possessions in the floods, Mr Beshear said.

“And many of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so, it hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them,” he said.

Areas in eastern Kentucky recorded between 20 and 27 centimetres of rain over a 48-hour period, up until Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: July 29, 2022, 5:58 PM