USA – Emergency Declared After 15 Killed in Kentucky Flash Floods

At least fifteen people have died after flash flooding caused widespread damage across areas of eastern Kentucky, USA, from 27 July 2022. Many people are still unaccounted for and officials fear the death toll could rise further. The governor of Kentucky said the state is experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history.

Floods in Breathitt County, Kentucky, July 2022. Photo: Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on 29 July 2022 that “the flooding situation in Eastern Kentucky is ongoing, with a flood watch in effect through today. Heartbreakingly, we can confirm at least 15 deaths, but we expect that number to grow. Over 23,000 Kentuckians are without power.”

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed or severely damaged and many roadways are impassable. Affected counties include Breathitt, Perry, Knott, Clay Letcher, Jackson, Owsley, Floyd and Pike.

Emergency teams including National Guard helicopters have been working in affected areas since flooding began. Governor Beshear said teams engaged in around 50 air rescues and hundreds of boat rescues on 28 July. Some victims had to take refuge from the floods on roofs of buildings or by clinging to trees.

The governor declared a state of emergency and made a direct request to the President of the United States for federal assistance to respond to the devastating flooding.

“The damage suffered is enormous and recovery will be a long-term effort. This assistance is critical to our efforts and essential for our people,” the governor said.

Speaking on 28 July the governor said, “This was a tough night and maybe an even tougher morning for so many of our residents. We are currently experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history. The situation is dynamic and ongoing. In most places we are not seeing receding water – in fact, in most places it has not crested yet. What we are going to see coming out of this is massive property damage and we expect loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes. And this will be yet another event that will take not months, but years, for our families to rebuild and recover from.”

Storms dumped up to 10 inches (250 mm) of rain from 26 to 28 July 2022. Rivers including the Kentucky and North Fork Kentucky overflowed. The North Fork Kentucky River at Jackson reached a record high of 43.47 feet (13.25 metres) as of 29 July 2022. Major Flood stage is 40 feet (12 metres) and the previous record high 43.1 feet (13.1 metres), set in 1939. Meanwhile the North Fork Kentucky River jumped above Major Flood Stage at Whitesburg and the Kentucky River was above Moderate Flood Stage at Heidelberg and near Ravenna, as of 29 July.

North Fork Kentucky River at Jackson, Kentucky. Image: NWS / NOAA
Rainfall totals in eastern Kentucky from 26 to 28 July 2022. Photo: NWS Jackson KY
Floods in Kentucky, USA, July 2022. Photo: Kentucky National Guard

Southwest Virginia

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has also declared a state of emergency to assist with response and recovery efforts due to impacts from heavy rainfall and flooding in far southwest Virginia that began on 27 July.

“This event presents significant resource and operational challenges as the region has experienced several days of rainfall and storms with additional rainfall forecasted in the days ahead,” the governor said.