Death toll in Eastern Kentucky flooding hits 39 as water, electricity restored to residents

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The death toll from the flooding in Eastern Kentucky climbed to 39 on Thursday, with Gov. Andy Beshear saying the area was working toward the recovery phase of the crisis after torrential rains destroyed hundreds of homes and wiped out entire communities last month.

The governor did not identify the victim, though two women in Breathitt County were still missing, according to county coroner Hargis Epperson.

The death toll includes Aaron "Mick" Crawford, a Knott County teen who fell ill and died days after assisting with recovery efforts. The floods were a result of storms that moved through the region in late July.

Storms persisted in the area, threatening even more rain and preventing water from immediately receding in areas. But with the wet weather behind the area, Beshear said Thursday that the immediate crisis had subsided – now, he said, the focus would move to recovery.

The 39 flooding victims came from several counties, according to Beshear:

  • Breathitt County: 9

  • Letcher County: 3

  • Clay County: 2

  • Knott County: 18

  • Perry County: 7

The number of people housed in shelters has decreased amid recovery efforts, he said. As of Thursday, 321 people are currently housed at state parks and 162 others are staying in congregate shelters.

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More wastewater management systems have recovered throughout the last two weeks, he said. After the flooding, 18 systems in the region were down.As of Thursday, he said, that number has shrunk to five.

Donations of drinkable water were critical in the immediate aftermath of the floods, Beshear noted, but most in the region have reached the point where such donations are no longer needed.

"Our goal was to take so much water to these counties that they said, 'Please stop bringing us water,' and we have hit that in virtually every county," Beshear said.

Still, while water access has been restored to many people in the region, a lot of areas are still under a boil water advisory – about 35,000 people are currently still recommended to boil water before consuming it, he said, down from about 46,000 on July 28. Power outages, meanwhile, have dipped from more than 40,000 on July 28 to 6,325 as of Thursday, Beshear said, "and those are located in mainly just a couple of areas."

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The work continues, though. Beshear, a Democrat in a state with a Republican supermajority, said he'd had conversations with members of the state legislature about a special session over how to fund recovery efforts. He did not yet have a date for the session but hopes to "do it as early as we can."

"All that's going well. There is real progress. There are discussions," he said. "There is no dissension. There are different ideas about how to reach the same goal, but all of it is on track."

To find flood resources in the meantime, head to governor.ky.gov/floodresources. Donations to the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund, which was set up in the aftermath of the crisis to direct resources to victims, have surpassed $5 million, Beshear said Thursday.

Contact Caleb Stultz at cstultz@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Caleb_Stultz.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eastern Kentucky floods: Death toll hits 39 as water, electric restored