At least 35 people have died in flash flooding in eastern Kentucky, according to a tweet from Gov. Andy Beshear Monday. And “at least hundreds” more are still missing.
“We just don’t have a firm grasp on that. I wish we did — there are a lot of reasons why it’s nearly impossible. But I want to make sure we’re not giving either false hope or faulty information,” he said during a press conference Monday.
Sunday, Beshear told "Meet the Press" that he believes rescue teams will recover bodies "for weeks, many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe a quarter-mile plus from where they were last.”
And more rains were expected in the flood-stricken area, according to the National Weather Service.
CNN reported that “rescue workers continue to comb the region for hundreds of missing people, unable to access areas left isolated after floodwater washed away bridges and inundated communities.”
While much of the United States has sweltered under extreme heat and drought conditions, other parts of the country have been inundated with water. The National Severe Storms Laboratory in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters. In the United States, more people die in floods each year than in tornadoes, hurricanes or because of lightning, it said.
Flash floods are the most deadly kind of flood, the laboratory said, combining “the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed. Flash floods occur when heavy rainfall exceeds the ability of the ground to absorb it. They also occur when water fills normally dry creeks or stream or enough water accumulates for streams to overtop their banks, causing rapid rises of water in a short amount of time. They can happen within minutes of the causative rainfall, limiting the time available to warn and protect the public.”
What makes flash floods so incredibly dangerous? According to a National Severe Storms Laboratory report on flooding:
- The sheer volume of solid surfaces — think buildings and pavement in densely populated areas — creates risk because water doesn’t penetrate roadways or buildings to be absorbed by the ground beneath. It has to go somewhere else and often goes into storm drains, which can be clogged by debris, creating flooding or can be overwhelmed when the volume of water exceeds the pipe’s capacity to route it fast enough. Pavement and roofs can “enhance runoff,” too.
- “Low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages, basements and low water crossings can all become death traps,” the report says.
- When water spills over a river or stream embankment or breaks it, a high volume of water pours into surrounding areas, with too much for the ground to absorb.
- Mountains and steep hills send water rushing down, while “rocks and shallow, clayey soils” can’t drink in enough water to prevent flooding.
- Ground that is already waterlogged by lingering rain won’t absorb more water, either, which can cause rapid flash flooding. That’s one reason the laboratory says camping or playing along streams and rivers can be dangerous if a thunderstorm hits. “A creek only 6 inches deep in mountainous areas can swell to a 10-foot-deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers over an area for an extended period of time.”
- A storm far upstream can create disaster downstream quickly, without providing the warning needed for those at risk. If the sky where you are is clear, you may not be thinking about rushing water until it’s too late to escape it.
- Debris thrown by the floodwaters can cause serious damage to the integrity of structures, can block escape paths and can trap people in rapidly rising water. That was part of the story in Kentucky, where there were reports of houses being knocked off their foundations and people being swept away when water flooded into buildings that had been breached by heavy objects like sheds.
- Recent burn areas in mountains are high-risk locations.
Reports also suggest that some of the people who died in the Kentucky floodwaters were physically vulnerable, according to a New York Times profile of victims, including children and people who were disabled and frail. But experts point out that anyone could be at risk from flash flooding, depending on circumstance.
In addition, cellphone service and utilities were in some cases knocked out and escape routes were blocked, not to mention vehicles flooded and unusable. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that at least 50 bridges were down in that part of Kentucky.
Weather.gov's "Turn Around, Don't Drown" says that 6 inches of water will cause loss of control in most passenger vehicles and may stall the vehicle. A foot of water will float many vehicles, while two feet of running water can carry almost any vehicle away. And it notes that walking through even six inches of moving water can make you lose your footing.
To be as safe as possible — and many circumstances are beyond anyone's control — that article says to watch where you camp and if there's any rain forecast — or if it starts to rain — choose higher ground or pick up stakes and leave completely. In addition, don't ever drive into moving water. And evacuate at the first sign of danger.
More tough news. We have confirmed more fatalities from the Eastern Kentucky floods. Our loss now stands at 35. Pray for these families and for those who are missing. ^AB— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) August 1, 2022