Kentucky hit with deadly flooding following 2nd 1,000-year rain event in 3 days

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For the second time in a week, portions of Kentucky were submerged after extreme rainfall that sparked deadly flash flooding. Several inches of rain in the eastern part of the state on Wednesday turned Appalachian towns into raging rivers that swept away homes and the people who lived in them.

At least eight people have been reported dead since the latest torrential rains began. In places like Perry County, as much as 14 inches of rain had been recorded over the previous 48 hours, and the rain was still falling on Thursday. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll would probably rise into the double digits.

Two men paddle in a shallow boat along a flooded road.
Men navigate down Wolverine Road in Breathitt County, Ky., on Thursday. (Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

“In a word, this event is devastating, and I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time,” Beshear said at a Thursday news conference, adding, “This isn’t just a disaster, it’s an ongoing natural disaster. We are in the midst of it. and for some place it will continue through tonight.”

Kentucky is still working to repair the damage left behind in December of 2021, when a string of tornadoes leveled whole towns in the western portion of the state. The latest round of extreme weather, which scientists have linked to climate change, will present even more challenges in the coming months.

"We expect a loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes," Beshear said, adding that it is likely that many families will take not not just months but years to recover and rebuild.

Two men in life jackets navigate past a flooded home in a boat.
Homes in Lost Creek, Ky., on Thursday after the flooding. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

Eastern Kentucky is expected to receive another 2 to 3 inches of rain Thursday night, and Beshear issued a statewide emergency declaration and called in the National Guard to help evacuate trapped residents. Hundreds of calls to police and fire departments have been pouring in as the floodwaters have continued to rise, and the rate the rainfall has effectively cut many residents off. In the town of Hazard, at least 9 inches of rain fell in 12 hours from Wednesday night into Thursday, the Washington Post reported.

On Tuesday, extreme rain hit the western Kentucky town of St. Louis, dumping up to 12 inches of rain. At its peak, the rain fell in some locations at a rate of 5 inches per hour. The National Weather Service said that the chances of that much rain falling there were 1 in 1,000 in any given year.

Two days later, those same odds were met once again in the eastern part of Kentucky.

An aerial view of flooded homes and structures, with a few trees poking above the muddy waters.
Home and structures are flooded near Quicksand, Ky., on Thursday. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

Climate scientists have shown that for every Celsius degree of temperature rise, the atmosphere holds 7% more moisture in the atmosphere. When conditions are right, that moisture is unleashed in rainfall events like the ones being experienced in Kentucky this week.

With rescue efforts still underway and more rain falling across portions of the state that have already transformed into rivers and lakes, the ultimate causes of the horrific scenes playing out in Kentucky seem, at least for the time being, of secondary importance.

“I believe climate change is real,” Beshear, a Democrat, told reporters. “I believe that it is causing more severe weather. With that said, I don’t know about this one and whether it is or is not connected, and I don’t want to cheapen or politicize what these folks are going through.”