At least 16 people are dead, including children, and the toll is “going to get a lot higher” following catastrophic flooding in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday.
An unknown number of people were missing, Beshear said at a news conference Friday morning, as rescuers scrambled to reach areas difficult to access.
The official statewide death toll “could potentially double” as more information comes in from county officials, the governor told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday night. Getting a reliable number of the people who are missing or were killed has been difficult due to the damaged infrastructure, he added.
“There’s going to be multiple families that we’ve lost,” Beshear told CNN’s “New Day” earlier.
“This is so deadly, and it hit so hard, and it hit in the middle of the night,” the governor said, adding although eastern Kentucky often floods, “we’ve never seen something like this.”
Officials “may be updating a count with how many we lost for the next several weeks,” Beshear said Friday afternoon, after taking a helicopter tour of some devastated areas.
The deadly floods come less than eight months after a series of tornadoes ripped through Kentucky, killing at least 74 people. The city of Mayfield, in southwestern Kentucky, was among the hardest hit areas. Now, officials there are assisting in the flood response efforts in the eastern part of the state.
Four young siblings were killed, aunt says
The deaths were reported in Knott, Perry, Letcher and Clay Counties.
Fourteen people, including four children, were confirmed dead Friday afternoon in Knott County, according to the county coroner. It was not immediately clear how it factors into the state’s overall death toll. The last official update of 16 deaths statewide included 11 deaths in Knott County.
The governor did not provide an updated toll Friday afternoon, saying officials were still getting updates from local leaders. Reports of more deaths are coming in, Beshear said, but the deaths have to be verified by the department of health before they can be reported.
At least six children were confirmed dead after the bodies of four missing kids in Knott County had been found, the governor said.
The four children were siblings, their aunt, Brandi Smith, told CNN Friday.
Smith is the sister of the children’s mother, Amber Smith, and identified the four children as Chance, 2; Nevaeh, 4; Riley Jr., 6; and Madison, 8.
The family’s mobile home became quickly flooded with water during the floods and forced the family to seek shelter on the roof, according to Smith, who learned of the deaths from the children’s mother.
“They were holding on to them. The water got so strong it just washed them away,” Smith said, and said her sister and her partner tried to save their children.
An elderly man and woman died after being swept from their homes in the Oneida Community near Manchester, Kentucky, according to Clay County Coroner Jarrod Becknell.
It is not clear whether the two deaths are included in the statewide toll Beshear announced.
Hard to know how many people missing, governor says
Rescuers worked around the clock to reach areas where flooding washed away roads or left them underwater after heavy rain Wednesday night into Thursday.
“Whole roads washed out – we still can’t get to a lot of people,” Beshear said earlier Friday.
Swollen floodwaters washed out bridges, wiped out power and sent some residents scrambling to their rooftops as water gushed into their homes. Some families’ houses and cars were submerged or swept away completely by the flooding, which has been exacerbated by creeks and grounds already soaked from ongoing rainfall.
Hundreds of Kentuckians have lost everything they have, the governor said. Officials believe thousands have been affected, he said at the news conference.
There is no reliable number of people unaccounted for, Beshear said. Part of the problem is “communication is still very difficult,” with cell service out in many areas.
“It’s going to be very challenging to get a good number” of missing, the governor said.
More than two dozen employees of Appalachian Regional Healthcare – the largest health service in eastern Kentucky – were still unaccounted for Friday afternoon, CEO Hollie Phillips told CNN.