HAZARD, Ky. — Four days into the flooding disaster after record rainfall in Eastern Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said the state and region are still in rescue and recovery mode to find missing people and identify the dead.
At a news conference at the Perry County Courthouse on Sunday morning, Beshear confirmed there are 26 Kentuckians who have died in the area as a result of flooding. There are bodies, he said, they are still processing and will be for days to come.
“This is the most devastating and deadly flooding event in my lifetime,” he said. “ ... Those are 26 children of God that will be missed by their community and are loved. We are going to be there with those families as they grieve,” he said.
Local officials are still working to identify missing people with many coming into nearby police stations to bring pictures of loved ones they have not heard from.
Beshear said there is no way to confirm an exact number of those who are missing right now.
“In between still spotty cell phone service and getting back up and running, we are not having a firm count to begin with,” he said. “This is something we will be working on for weeks to come.”
When questioned about climate change and its role in the latest Kentucky disaster, Beshear said he hadn’t spoken about “something he believed in” yet because there were still hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people with “nothing at the moment.”
“We are still finding bodies,” he said. “To talk to parents who have lost children about solar panels, they don’t want to talk about that right now. Right now our job is to find those that are missing, our job is to help families suffering, and we can have that larger conversation later.”
He spoke about the physical devastation and called it “incredible.”
“People are losing not only their houses and all their possessions. Our infrastructure, roads and bridges,” he began. “Our bridges are so important in this community and they are about whether you can access not only your house, but so many critical services.”
Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander said this was the biggest natural disaster event to ever hit the area, and around 50 bridges were washed away or broken.
Beshear said water infrastructure, which is already a challenge in rural Kentucky, was also wiped out in certain areas.
With the entire water system shutdown and no access to running water, the governor said the most important thing people can donate and bring to the region is water.
Hazard Mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini said this is the first time the water plant has been completely shut down since 1949.
In addition, the administration and local officials are working to get roads open, and places for people to stay. He said a major priority is to get Buckhorn State Park open, which could provide around 38 rooms for people to seek shelter.
More than 70 travel trailers the state purchased are also being brought over from Western Kentucky to provide housing. The first round was brought over and stationed in Jenny Wiley State Park in nearby Floyd County. These spaces are already full.
“The biggest thing right now is getting people stabilized,”he said. “We are still in an emergency situation. The next thing is to bring cleanup. But right now, it is meeting the very basic needs and making sure people’s relatives are okay around the area where we are worried about hundreds of people.
Most importantly, Beshear, the mayor and judge executive said they have seen an outpouring of love and support from not only those affected by the disaster, but Kentuckians across the state who have donated and offered help.
“Everything we face, the biggest thing – and the governor touched on it – is we are seeing neighbors helping neighbors, families coming to help other families to clean out and and trying to rebuild and even offering to stay with each other,” Alexander said.
He and Mobelini said they are receiving so much support, they are also working to organize volunteer efforts.
“Without you reaching out and helping a neighbor, there is no way we could get through this,” Alexander said.
Mobelini said they have to get efforts organized because they have more volunteers than they know what to do with right now.
“Within these next three or four days, we will work to come up with a plan,” Mobelini said. “We have tons of people wanting to volunteer and we need you, but we need to put you where you can work best to put this past us. None of this would be happening if everyone wasn’t helping take care of each other. That is what we do.”
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