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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced early Friday that the death toll from this week's historic flooding has risen to 15 while warning that the figure is expected to more than double — and will include children.
“We have now lost at least 15 Kentuckians,” Beshear said in a video message posted online. “That number is going to grow, probably more than double. We know some of the lost will include children. We may have even lost entire families.”
Beshear said the search continues for residents who may have been trapped by the rising floodwaters, which have yet to crest in some areas.
Nearly 50 air rescues and hundreds of boat rescues were conducted on Thursday, he said. “This situation is ongoing,” Beshear said. “We are still in the search and rescue mode.”
An estimated 23,000 people remain without power, and many counties in the eastern part of the state are without water.
[Also read: How to help victims of Kentucky floods]
The governor said the state will need water and cleaning supplies, and those who wish to donate can do so through the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund.
“It's going to be a tough couple days,” Beshear said. “And then it's going to be a long rebuild. But we are tough enough. We'll make it. Let's stick together. Let's help out our fellow human beings.”
The flooding began Tuesday, when up to 12 inches of rain fell in western Kentucky. At its peak, the rain fell in some locations at a rate of 5 inches per hour. The National Weather Service said the chances of that much rain falling there were 1 in 1,000 in any given year.
The extreme rain continued in the eastern part of the state on Wednesday, turning Appalachian towns into raging rivers that swept away homes. As much as 14 inches of rain were recorded in Perry County, and it was still falling on Thursday evening.
On Friday morning, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Kentucky and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Beshear and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), went on an aerial tour the flooded communities in a National Guard helicopter on Friday afternoon.
"As governor, I've seen a lot," Beshear said of the devastation. "This is by far the worst."