“The forecast is concerning, and we’re watching it very closely, obviously. We also are sending out warnings and making sure everyone knows,” said Col. Jeremy Slinker, the Kentucky emergency management director.
“We’re preparing for it and making sure all the residents there are prepared for it because we just don’t want to lose anyone else or have any more tragedy,” he told CNN’s Pamela Brown Saturday.
“The threat of flash flooding will be gradually increasing as showers and thunderstorms with very heavy rainfall rates develop and expand in coverage today,” the center said, deeming the atmospheric conditions in the area as “tropical in nature,” meaning it is warm, moist and can support an incredible amount of water.
Widespread rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches are forecast over the next 24 to 48 hours, but as much as 4 or 5 inches is possible in localized areas. As little as 1 to 2 inches can revive flooding concerns, particularly in areas already inundated with heavy rain where the soil is saturated.
Twenty-six people have been confirmed dead, Gov. Andy Beshear said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, in what officials describe as unprecedented flooding for the region — and the death toll is expected to climb as crews gain more access to currently impassable areas.
“This is one of the most devastating deadly floods that we have seen in our history,” Beshear said. “It wiped out areas where people didn’t have that much to begin with.”
“Our death toll right now is at 26,” he added. “But I know of several additional bodies and we know it’s going to grow with the level of water. We’re going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe a quarter-mile plus from where they were last.”
Some areas remain unreachable, governor says
Officials believe thousands have been affected, and efforts to rebuild some areas may take years, the governor told CNN Saturday. The state’s estimated losses are potentially in the “tens if not the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
After the rain, excessive heat is expected to build over the region Tuesday as many people are currently struggling with no access to clean drinking water, power outages and cell service still out in some counties Sunday.
“We have multiple Kentucky State Police posts that are taking calls from loved ones that can’t connect with those that they are worried about,” the governor told NBC Sunday. “But it’s going to take some time to get a firm grasp on that. We still can’t get into some areas to check on people.”
The federal government sent tractor trailers of bottled water to the region, and more financial assistance is on the way.
Officials have moved swiftly to approve financial assistance, given the scores of people in need of relief after losing everything.
The federal government greenlighted funding for people in five counties “at a pace that we’ve never seen before,” Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman told CNN’s Pamela Brown Saturday.
“Residents will actually receive direct payments, which is some really good news in what will be a very long tunnel to see the light,” Coleman said.
Coleman did not provide an exact date on when those payments are expected to reach residents, though she said they will be dispersed as soon as the state receives the money.
Nearly $700,000 has been raised for relief efforts, Beshear said Saturday, noting funeral expenses for those killed in the flooding will be paid for.
Additionally, the state is prioritizing placing generators at the shelters for flood survivors as temperatures are expected to soar Tuesday following the rain.
‘Hero’ rescued family from flooded home
Among the tales of heroism emerging from the disaster is an unidentified man who drifted through fast-moving water to get a 98-year-old grandmother, her grandson and another family member out of their home as it was nearly swallowed by the flooding Thursday.
Randy Polly, who witnessed the rescue in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and recorded parts of it on his cellphone, told CNN he got stuck a distance away from the home on his way to get gas Thursday morning.
Polly said he heard people yelling across the flooded road, “Get me help, get help.” He called 911, but first responders were overwhelmed and unresponsive to his calls.
Around 9 a.m., he saw a man he described as a hero drift over to the house and start banging on the door and window.
The man eventually helped get three people out of the home and guided them through rushing water, the videos show. The rescue took about 30 minutes, Polly said.
Missy Crovetti, who lives in Green Oaks, Illinois, told CNN the people rescued in the video are her grandmother Mae Amburgey, uncle Larry Amburgey and brother Gregory Amburgey. They are safe and doing well, she said.
Crovetti said she does not know the name of the man who rescued her family. Polly also said he does not know the man’s name.
CNN’s Sharif Paget, Gene Norman, Derek Van Dam, Haley Brink, Jalen Beckford, Angela Fritz, Chuck Johnston and Raja Razek contributed to this report.