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Flood cleanup is slow going in Kentucky as rescue efforts are still underway

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The death toll from flash flooding in eastern Kentucky is now over two dozen.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

And the governor expects that number to continue to grow significantly in the coming weeks. Cleanup is slow going and rescue efforts are still underway.

MARTINEZ: Stan Ingold of member station WEKU in Richmond, Ky., has been covering the flood. Stan, a lot more rain in the last few days. That, I'm sure, has complicated things there. What have officials been able to do?

STAN INGOLD, BYLINE: Well, the terrain in this part of Appalachia is beautiful but unforgiving. It's a collection of mountains, hills, valleys, rivers and tributaries. It's hard to get around on a good day. So when all this rain poured in, it flooded everything out. It washed out roads. It damaged bridges. There were rock and mud slides. And you can start to understand why it might take so long to find everyone who's missing. We spoke with resident P.J. Collett (ph), who had been moved to a local high school during the flooding.

PJ COLLETT: We're here because the place we were staying at, the water got up to our back door. And I reckon it's in the parking lot and it's in the building. We've lost everything.

INGOLD: Collett is one of hundreds of people in this area who've been displaced. Hundreds of homes and businesses were either washed away or left damaged by the surge of water. Willie Bush (ph) from Breathitt County has little left of his home.

WILLIE BUSH: Frame's still there and the roof. But everything else is gone. Three houses, five cars, right at my place, my daughter's place and my trailer, too. I had a trailer there, too. It's gone.

INGOLD: And these are some of the people lucky enough to make it.

MARTINEZ: Now, we said the death total is expected to keep climbing. What about the people missing?

INGOLD: Governor Andy Beshear said that, unfortunately, he expects more bodies to be found in the days and even weeks to come. He said finding lost Kentuckians is a priority.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDY BESHEAR: Make sure that we ultimately learn about everyone that's missing, check on every single one of them, hopefully, reunite them with their families. But if not, we're going to be there with them through the toughest of the tough.

INGOLD: Cellphone service has been down for much of the area since the floods came. And that's complicating the rescue efforts. It makes it hard to communicate. There's also a glimmer of hope, though. It's possible that some people who are counted as missing just haven't been able to make contact with loved ones or authorities just yet. And that actually happened recently during a round of tornadoes in Kentucky last December. So the governor is holding out hope for now.

MARTINEZ: And we mentioned that more rain is expected, Stan. How's it looking there?

INGOLD: Well, the rain has been off and on for a few days here. And sometimes it slows enough for the waters to recede, giving rescuers the chance to get into areas where they - were previously inaccessible. There's a new weather concern just around the corner, though. The National Weather Service says that the rain is expected to move out. But high temperatures and high humidity are expected for much of this week, with heat indexes expected to be in the upper 90s or even higher. And many people are still without power and water. So officials are working to set up cooling stations to help people escape the heat as they try to continue search-and-rescue efforts and try to rebuild their lives. It's not going to be easy. This part of Kentucky is very poor. But there's a strong sense of community and people who want to help each other. That being said, though, it's just not good here right now and probably won't be for days or weeks still, if not longer.

MARTINEZ: That's Stan Ingold of member station WEKU in Richmond, Ky. Stan, thank you.

INGOLD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Stan Ingold
Born in Morehead Kentucky, Stan Ingold got his start in public radio as a volunteer at Morehead State Public Radio. He worked there throughout his college career as a reporter, host and producer and was hired on as the Morning Edition Host after graduating with a degree in History from Morehead State University. He remained there for nearly three years. Along with working in radio he spent a great deal of time coaching speech and forensics at Rowan County Senior High School in Morehead, working with students and teaching them broadcasting techniques for competitions.