Sweltering heat was battering an area of eastern Kentucky already reeling from massive flooding, forcing residents to clean up after the deluge to deal with an oppressive new threat.
The grim task of cleaning up after the floods continued, but rising heat and humidity prompted officials to open cooling centers on Tuesday as forecasters warned of the risk of flood-related illnesses. heat and that some residents were left without electricity.
In Knott County, Kirsten Gomez said her flood-ravaged double-wide trailer was being gutted by her husband and cousin. They were stripping drywall, flooring and cabinetry destroyed by floodwaters from nearby Troublesome Creek that engulfed their home early last Thursday.
“It’s so miserable. The humidity is so high it takes your breath away,” Gomez said Tuesday. “Your clothes are sticking to you. Your hair is sticking to you. This mud is sticking to you.
“But I’m just blessed that we don’t have any more rain.”
The blast of heat and humidity comes as some residents try to save what they can and search and rescue teams continue to search for people missing for days since the floods.
“Extreme heat, extreme humidity, that’s stressful on its own,” said Jerry Stacy, director of emergency management in hard-hit Perry County, Kentucky. It doesn’t get much worse than it is.
A heat advisory was issued for flood-ravaged areas of eastern Kentucky from midday Wednesday through Thursday evening, with heat index readings expected to approach triple digits, the National Weather Service said.
“We need to make sure that those who are vulnerable have a cool place with their families … or that we take them to cooling stations,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday. the worst flood we’ve ever seen in our lives to lose someone now in the heat.”
The death toll rose to 37 on Tuesday after more bodies were found in the devastated landscape on Monday, and while more than 1,300 people have been rescued, crews were still trying to reach some people who remain isolated by the floods or mudslides.
“It’s absolutely devastating out there,” Beshear said. “It’s going to take years to rebuild. People left with absolutely nothing. Houses that we don’t know where they are are completely gone. And we continue to find the bodies of our brothers and sisters that we lost.
On a positive note, Beshear said most of those missing by Kentucky State Police have been located and cell phone service has been restored to much of the area.
In Perry County, Kentucky, search and rescue teams scouring debris-strewn creek banks were expected to complete their work by Wednesday, Stacy said.
Historic flooding that inundated communities in eastern Kentucky also affected areas just across the border in Virginia and West Virginia, where some people were also left without power.
Beshear said about 7,500 power outages remained in eastern Kentucky as of Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, he warned Kentuckians to watch out for the heat as the cleanup continues.
“I know you might be working there to save whatever you can. But be very careful on Wednesday and Thursday when it’s hot,” he said. “We’re trucking in water. We’ll make sure we have enough for you. But you’re going to need somewhere cool at least to take a break.”
For hundreds of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, this place was an emergency shelter. As of Tuesday, nearly 430 people were staying in 11 of those shelters and another 191 were temporarily housed in state parks, Beshear said.
Meanwhile, flooding has forced some eastern Kentucky districts to delay the start of the school year. Several schools in the area were damaged, officials said, and the focus is now on helping families whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
“Just that in itself is going to take time before we can even start the conversation with the community about where the kids are going to go to school,” said John Jett, superintendent of Perry County, where classes were supposed to start. August 1st. 11 but were delayed.
Two of nine schools in the Perry County district suffered severe damage and one will likely need to be rebuilt due to partial collapse, he said.
In Knott County, Superintendent Brent Hoover said classes would be delayed until the district could assess damage to the high school, an elementary school and the technology center. In Letcher County, Superintendent Denise Yonts said six of the district’s 10 schools were damaged by flooding and two staff members died. The district is committed to getting students back into classrooms as soon as possible to restore some sense of normalcy, she said.
“Our community as a whole is devastated,” Yonts said.
President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to flooded counties after 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours in parts of the east Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.
The disaster was the latest in a series of catastrophic deluges that have hit parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis. Scientists warn that climate change is making such events more frequent.
Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Ky., and Reynolds reported from Louisville, Ky. Other Associated Press contributors include Dylan Lovan in Louisville and Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia.