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Neighboring States, FEMA Aid Search, Rescue Efforts In Flooded Eastern Kentucky Communities

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West Virginia National Guard
Two West Virginia National Guard UH-60M Blackhawks sit on the tarmac during pre-flight operations at Big Sandy Regional Airport in Pike County, Kentucky, July 29, 2022. Fourteen Soldiers from the WVNG’s Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion (MEDEVAC) and Company B, 1-224th Security and Support Aviation Battalion located in Williamstown, West Virginia, flew more than 25 hours on July 28, 2022, rescuing over a dozen people and three pets from southeastern Kentucky following catastrophic flash flooding.

As rain dissipates in central Appalachia, search and rescue crews are working around the clock to locate missing people. Communities in eastern Kentucky are being aided by neighboring state governments.

According to state and federal officials, at least 16 people have died amid historic floods in eastern Kentucky, with many more still missing. The North Fork of the Kentucky River crested 6 feet above previous records.

“We don't have a reliable number of people unaccounted for,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news conference Friday morning. “It's for a couple of reasons. Number one, communication is still very difficult. We're trying to amplify cell service. We hope we're going to get a big step made today in doing that, but it's going to be really challenging in this area."

President Joe Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with recovery in Breathitt, Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Wolfe counties.

“What we'll be working on next is an application and a request on the individual assistance side,” Beshear said.

Search and rescue crews are still unable to reach some of the flooded areas. Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adj. Gen. of the West Virginia National Guard, said that he’s coordinating with the Kentucky and Tennessee National Guards to provide helicopter rescues to these locations.

“There are just locations they can't get to, and with aviation and our hoist capabilities, we can get in and lower the hoist, get folks on that, and get them up out of that area,” Crane said.

W.Va. aviation crews deploy to South Carolina for Hurricane Dorian support
Edwin Wriston
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U.S. Army National Guard
Crew members from the West Virginia National Guard's Company C., 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, located in Williamstown, W.Va., prepare to deploy to South Carolina in support of Hurricane Dorian response and recovery operations Sept. 4, 2019. Eight Soldiers from the aeromedical evacuation crew will be on standby for a week to provide assistance as needed.

Officials are encouraging people to wait for the water to recede, and to avoid flooded areas and hazards such as downed power lines and mudslides.

“You need to be extra cautious when you're traveling,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said. “Make sure that you're listening to your local officials in what they asked you to do, because we want to make sure that we keep you safe. We want to be able to use our resources to help those that are in need.”

Flooding can undercut roads and wash away bridges. According to Crane, some highways have even lost part of their support structures from flood damage.

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West Virginia National Guard
Photo depicting flood damage over Jackson, Kentucky from a West Virginia National Guard UH-60M Blackhawk. Fourteen Soldiers from the WVNG’s Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion (MEDEVAC) and Company B, 1-224th Security and Support Aviation Battalion located in Williamstown, West Virginia, flew more than 25 hours July 28, 2022, rescuing over a dozen people and three pets from southeastern Kentucky following catastrophic flash flooding.

While storms and rain showers are dissipating, some waterways in Kentucky haven’t yet reached their crest. With saturated soil and localized downpours, flash floods continue to be a hazard throughout central Appalachia.

A flood watch issued by the National Weather Service will remain in effect till 10 p.m. Friday.

Part-time Huntington Reporter, dadkins@wvpublic.org

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