The death toll could still rise further, according to officials, with “hundreds of unaccounted for people” at a minimum, the governor said at a news conference earlier in the day in Frankfort.
“We just don’t have a firm grasp on that. I wish we did — there are a lot of reasons why it’s nearly impossible,” he said. “But I want to make sure we’re not giving either false hope or faulty information.”
The flooding last week swelled over roads, destroyed bridges and swept away entire homes, displacing thousands of Kentuckians, Beshear previously said. Vital electricity, water and roadway infrastructure was also knocked out. Some of it has yet to be restored, though cell service is returning in some of the state’s hardest-hit areas, the governor said, which may help people connect with loved ones they’ve yet to contact.
“I’ve lived here in this town for 56 years, and I have never seen water of this nature,” Tracy Neice, the mayor of Hindman, Kentucky, told CNN, saying his town’s main street looked like a stretch of river where one might go whitewater rafting. “It was just devastating to all of our businesses, all of our offices.”
While reading a breakdown of those killed in each county during a news conference Sunday, Beshear became visibly emotional when he reached four children dead in Knott County. They were identified to CNN by their aunt as siblings Chance, 2; Nevaeh, 4; Riley Jr., 6; and Madison, 8.
“It says ‘minors,'” the governor said looking at the list. “They are children. The oldest one is in second grade,” Beshear said.
The children — described as sweet, funny and lovable — died after the family’s mobile home flooded last week, forcing them to seek shelter on the roof, their aunt, Brandi Smith, told CNN on Friday.
“They were holding on to them,” Smith said of her sister and her partner. “The water got so strong it just washed them away.”
Sixteen of the deaths occurred in Knott County, about 130 miles southeast of Lexington, per the governor’s office. Seven people were killed in Breathitt County, two in Clay County, two in Letcher County and three in Perry County.
The governor believes recovery crews are “going to be finding bodies for weeks,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, “many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe a quarter-mile plus from where they were last.”
More rain in the forecast
Officials are “still in search and rescue mode,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman told CNN on Monday, “because there is so much water.”
“All of our state roads are passable,” she said, but “we still have back roads and country roads …….