Heat brings new concerns in eastern Kentucky flooding; death toll hits 37: What we know

·5 min read

Nearly a week has passed since flooding devastated eastern Kentucky, and residents are readying to face a new hurdle: Forecasted heat and humidity is set to hit affected areas and impact those who still don't have electricity, running water or permanent housing.

What happened: At least 37 people have died in what the governor called "one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky's history." Many people are still unaccounted for after nearly a foot of rain last week led to intense flash floods, sweeping away houses and stranding residents on roofs.

"It's absolutely devastating out there, it's going to take years to rebuild," Gov. Beshear said Tuesday morning. "People left with absolutely nothing, homes that we don't know where they are ... just gone."

What the forecast means: The weather stayed largely dry overnight from Monday into Tuesday, and the possibility of new storms is diminishing, Beshear said at a Tuesday morning news conference. But high temperatures and humid conditions forecasted for Wednesday and Thursday are creating new obstacles for thousands of residents who no longer have power or water or who are in temporary housing.

Here's what we know.

More coverage of the Kentucky flooding:

Cooling centers set up amid forecasted heat

Temperatures are expected to range from the mid 80s to 90 degrees Wednesday and Thursday, but a mass of humid air is likely to make it feel even hotter, according to the National Weather Service. Heat indices, meaning how the temperature feels to a person, could peak just over 100 degrees in some areas.

"It's going to get really, really hot, and that is our new weather challenge," Beshear said.

Beshear said the state was creating eight cooling centers for those in need, including the 9,686 customers still without power.

The governor warned those working outside on recovering items and repairing homes – especially seniors and those who are "otherwise fragile" – to use the locations to stay safe.

"Don't be too proud to go to one of these places," he said. "It's going to be really hot and really dangerous."

Four hundred and twenty-nine people were staying at 11 emergency centers in the state as of Tuesday and 191 more were being housed temporarily in state parks, Beshear said.

Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in group shelters is forcing officials to work as quickly as possible to get families into private shelters, Beshear said. Eighty of the state's 120 counties currently have "high" COVID-19 community levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schools damaged by flooding to delay fall start

Multiple schools across eastern Kentucky have been forced to delay the return of fall classes due to flooding damage on campuses.

Brent Hoover, superintendent of Knott County schools, said classes in the district would be delayed until they can assess damage to multiple buildings. In Letcher County, where two staff members died, superintendent Denise Yonts said she hopes to get students back to class as soon as possible to restore some sense of normalcy.

Perry County schools superintendent John Jett said two of the district's schools suffered severe damage and one will likely need to be rebuilt. The district's classes were supposed to begin next week but have been delayed as the community focuses on helping families rebuild after losing their homes, Jett said.

“Just that in and of itself is going to take time before we can even start the conversation with the community about where kids are going to go to school,” he said.

Search continues for missing residents

At least one person was rescued Monday by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources staff, Beshear said Tuesday, bringing some hope to families still waiting to hear whether their missing loved ones will be found safe.

More than 1,300 people have have been rescued since the flooding began, and the Kentucky state police are continuing to take reports of missing people, according to Beshear. Many people remain trapped after flooding swept away bridges and mudslides blocked roads.

While hundreds remain unaccounted for as of Tuesday, the number should drop once cellphone service is further restored across the area.

This handout photo provided by the Kentucky National Guard a Kentucky National Guard flight crew from 2/147th Bravo Company aided in flood relief efforts in response to a declared state of emergency in eastern Kentucky on July 29, 2022.
This handout photo provided by the Kentucky National Guard a Kentucky National Guard flight crew from 2/147th Bravo Company aided in flood relief efforts in response to a declared state of emergency in eastern Kentucky on July 29, 2022.

Teen swims to safety, saves dog in plastic container amid flooding

Chloe Adams woke up about 5 a.m. Thursday to gurgling noises coming from the drain in her bathroom. Suddenly, she found herself screaming for help in the dark as rains flooded her eastern Kentucky home.

"All I knew was that I only had two options here," said the 17-year-old, who was alone with her dog, Sandy. "We stay inside and drown or I take my chances swimming to safety. I knew the dangers of trying to swim in deep and moving water, but I felt I had no choice."

Chloe said that when she checked outside her home early Thursday, water had already started to cover her deck and was rising to the doorstep. She said she was "terrified" and "hysterical" and hollered in vain for family who lived nearby. Once the water started rising, Chloe said it took about an hour before she knew she had to save herself and her dog.

Read more about Chloe's dramatic survival story from the Louisville Courier Journal.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kentucky flooding victims to be hit by heat, humidity; death toll at 37