Officials worry that when additional victims are found by search and rescue teams as they spread out over flood-affected areas in the US state where heavy rain is forecast to continue, the death toll might go up.
37 people have already died as a result of flooding in eastern Kentucky, but fresh rain has made cleanup efforts more difficult, and expected severe weather overnight may do more harm.
“We are bringing the day to a close with more tragic news from Eastern Kentucky. The governor of the state in the south-central United States, Andy Beshear, tweeted on Monday, “We can confirm the dead toll has now grown to 37, with so many more still missing.
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Let’s unite to support one another Kentuckians and pray for these families, he continued.
Beshear has said he expects the death toll to continue to rise as search and rescue teams fan out across flood-hit areas and recover more bodies.
Their efforts were hampered by more rain on Monday, with a series of new storms forecast to arrive overnight.
“If things weren’t hard enough on the people of this region, they’re getting rain right now,” Beshear said earlier in the day. “There is severe storm potential today in all of the impacted areas.
“That is just not right.”
‘Complex of storms’
The National Weather Service issued flood watches for most of eastern Kentucky for the evening and into Tuesday morning, warning that “a complex of storms is expected to move over the region tonight.”
“Heavy rain rates which could lead to flash flooding along with severe thunderstorms are possible,” the weather agency tweeted.
Last week, some areas in eastern Kentucky received more than eight inches (20 centimetres) of rain in a 24-hour period, provoking unprecedented flash flooding.
The water level of the North Fork of the Kentucky River at Whitesburg rose to over 6 metres within hours, well above its previous record of 4.48 metres.
Some areas in the mountainous Appalachia region are still inaccessible following the flooding that turned roads into rivers, washed out bridges and swept away houses.
The floods hit a region of Kentucky that was already suffering from grinding poverty — driven by the decline of the coal industry that was the heart of its economy.
President Joe Biden has issued a disaster declaration for the state, allowing federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
The eastern Kentucky flooding is the latest in a series of extreme weather events that scientists say are an unmistakable sign of climate change.