“We are still focused on meeting immediate needs by providing food, water and shelter to thousands of our fellow Kentucky people who have been displaced by this catastrophic flood,” he said in the communicated. “At the same time, we have started the long road to an eventual recovery.”
Earlier Sunday, Beshear said rescue teams were continuing to search for survivors as the rain resumed and authorities had unconfirmed reports of additional deaths.
Due to dangerous conditions such as downed power lines, as well as spotty cellphone service, he said some affected areas are inaccessible and the state does not have a “firm grip” on the number of missing.
“With the water level we’re going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of them have swept hundreds of yards, maybe over a quarter of a mile from where they were lost “, Beshear told NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader put the death toll at 33 as of Sunday evening, based on reports of additional deaths at the offices of two county coroners.
In some families, everyone in their household perished, the governor said. The state was doubling up on the National Guard to search for victims, he said.
Among the most tragic stories are the deaths of four siblings who had climbed onto their roof to escape the rising waters. After the roof collapsed, the family clung to tree branches, according to an account from the Herald-Leader. A swell of water carried the children away.
The disaster caused flash floods, landslides and mudslides. The storms displaced hundreds of residents and caused “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damage, the governor said in a YouTube video posted Sunday. He said it could take years to rebuild in the area. Kentucky Power reported on Twitter that by noon on Sunday, power had been restored to about 50% of customers who had lost it.
According to Sunday evening’s press release, 359 survivors are temporarily housed in 15 shelters and two state parks and campgrounds.
The Kentucky floods were caused by 1 in 1,000 year rainstorms that scientists say are emblematic of the type of extreme weather that will become more common as the Earth warms.
Explainer: How two 1 in 1,000 year rain events hit the United States in two days
In “Meet the Press,” Beshear addressed extreme weather — including an unusual wave of tornadoes in December that devastated parts of Kentucky and other states — and said officials must ensure “ roads, our bridges, our culverts, our flood walls can withstand greater intensity.
Rural water and sanitation systems are easily overwhelmed, he said, and upgrading their infrastructure is “so expensive”. He said the U.S. bailout and bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed last year was a “good start” and allowed the state to afford improvements “that we haven’t been able to do before.”
“But if we really want to be more resilient, it’s going to take major federal investment as well as here in the state,” Beshear said.
The National Weather Service predicted multiple rounds of showers and thunderstorms for the area Sunday through Tuesday, with flash flooding possible. A “brief dry spell” is expected on Wednesday, but Thursday could bring more rain.
Beshear urged residents to take precautions.
“The next few days are going to be difficult,” he said. in the YouTube video. “We have rain and maybe even a lot of rain that will hit the same areas. Please pray for people in these areas, and if you find yourself in areas that are going to be hit by rain, be sure to stay safe. Make sure you have a higher place. Go to a shelter.