The White House on Friday approved a disaster declaration for Kentucky, where 13 counties in the eastern portion of the state have been ravaged by severe flash flooding that’s caused 16 deaths and an unknown number of missing people.
Gov. Andy Beshear and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell planned to do a Friday morning briefing in Hazard. However, the governor said current conditions in the Eastern Kentucky town made it unsafe to go there.
Instead, Beshear and Criswell were slated to do an aerial tour of flooding in Breathitt County, roughly 70 miles southeast of Lexington. Officials there issued an evacuation order Thursday night for parts of Jackson because of concerns about a dam breach.
The governor described the flooding that hit the state’s Central Appalachian area as “a huge natural disaster.” That comes just months after the worst tornadoes in the state’s history ripped through Western Kentucky communities and caused 77 deaths.
The weekend is expected to be dry for the communities underwater. Floodwaters are expected to crest Saturday, but Beshear said heavy rains may hit the area early next week.
“We’re going to make it,” he said. “We’ve been through so much the last couple of years. We’re going to stand next to you now and in the years to come, and we’ll get through this. We’ll get through it together.”
Communication between the state and the towns and counties is difficult for the time being, which is why the state does not have a solid number of individuals to declare as missing. The Kentucky National Guard has used its aircraft to rescue nearly 120 people.
Criswell said she did not know exactly how many federal officials were in Kentucky, but teams started to arrive Thursday, hours after the emergency began.
She said that some federal officials who have been in the state working on recovery efforts from the December tornadoes were among the first to arrive at the floods.
“As we get a better idea of what the shortfalls are, we will continue to bring in more personnel throughout the next few days,” she said.
State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the flooding has been “difficult to witness” as the water has destroyed several homes in the region.
“All of our Eastern Kentucky members are actively working with local authorities and emergency management services to ensure the safety of those impacted and are poised to work with the governor to do whatever is needed,” Stivers said.
The state has also set up a community relief fund to take tax-deductible donations that will be used to help with the recovery efforts. A similar fund for last year’s Western Kentucky tornadoes raised more than $40 million.