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Rescue efforts continue in Kentucky after floods hit the state

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Search and rescue efforts continue in southeastern Kentucky today after intense rainfall Wednesday night caused devastating flooding. Governor Andy Beshear says at least 16 people have died, and they expect that number to rise.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ANDY BESHEAR: To all the families that know you've already sustained a loss, we're going to grieve with you. We're going to support you. And we're going to be here for you not just today, but tomorrow and in the weeks and the years to come.

SIMON: Stan Ingold of member station WEKU has been covering the floods, and he joins us. Stan, thanks so much for being with us.

STAN INGOLD, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Of course, the area's been declared a major disaster. What can you tell us about the damage and where the situation seems to stand today?

INGOLD: So the flooding has been in the southeastern part of the commonwealth. At least 12 individual counties and two cities have declared states of emergency, and the governor has also issued a statewide state of emergency. There's reports of homes, schools and businesses inundated with water. Roads are washed down. Bridges are damaged. Water and gas systems are down. And there's also been mudslides and rockslides.

Drew Stevens is the public information officer for the Wolfe County Search and Rescue. He was out on Thursday doing boat rescues in neighboring Breathitt County, which was hit incredibly hard.

DREW STEVENS: We were seeing homes flooded up to their attics, homes that completely washed away. If I had to boil it down to one word, it would be devastation. You know, I truly have never seen anything quite like it.

INGOLD: And those rescue efforts have been made pretty difficult in some places by access issues. That includes downed trees, damaged roads and high water.

SIMON: More than 20,000 households remain without power, we're told. What other kind of relief efforts are underway?

INGOLD: Well, the Kentucky National Guard is also helping with search and rescue. And aid is also coming from the Tennessee and West Virginia National Guards as well. They're using boats and aircraft. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been on the ground providing support, too. Ten shelters have been opened for those that have been displaced, as well as three state parks. Right now the state estimates they're sheltering over 300 people, and there's still a lot of people that are unaccounted for. So the governor is urging those with missing loved ones to contact their local Kentucky State Police post.

SIMON: And I understand more rain's expected, isn't it?

INGOLD: Yes. We're expecting a bit of a dry spell today, but more rain is predicted for this evening in southeastern Kentucky, with the heaviest rains being forecast between tonight and Monday night.

Alex Vorst is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Ky. He says one to three inches of rain could fall.

ALEX VORST: A lot of the places that were hit pretty hard this past couple days could be under the target again for early next week.

INGOLD: He says they're not anticipating more flooding, but there is still some possibility.

SIMON: The flooding in Kentucky, of course, comes just after record-breaking flooding in Missouri this week. Both were caused by extreme rainfall. What do scientists say about the role climate change plays in events like these?

INGOLD: Well, as humans keep burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases, the atmosphere is heating up. And that warmer air can hold more moisture. And more moisture means more rain. So climate change is causing heavy rainstorms to get more common and more severe. And that's driving more flash flooding in much of the U.S., especially in the east, like we just saw in Kentucky this past week.

SIMON: Stan Ingold of member station WEKU.

Stan, thank you, and thanks to all of your colleagues for helping us cover this.

INGOLD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.