Tamela Mann - Overcomer

At Least 16 People Killed in Kentucky Floods

Residents of Nim Henson Geriatric Center in Jackson, Ky., wait Thursday as volunteers and staff evacuate them via school bus. (Arden S. Barnes for The Washington Post)

People brought harrowing stories of survival Friday as they took shelter at a school that had become a refuge for those who lost everything when muddy water rapidly seeped into their homes.

Some clung to trees as floodwaters raced below them. Others gripped tightly to children. One man held on to a branch so tightly he broke ribs and his collarbone.

“He blacked out and all he remembers is waking up to lights in his eyes,” said Kristie Gorman, assistant superintendent for the Perry County School District, which is housing the shelter at an elementary school. “And we have tons of stories like that.”

President Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Kentucky on Friday as the death toll rose to at least 16 — including several children — since Wednesday. Families in hard-hit towns began receiving grim news on relatives lost. Others got glimpses of ruined homes. And thousands remained without power from the disastrous flooding.

Meanwhile, a flood watch remained in effect in eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian foothills and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he expected the death toll to more than double.

“As governor, I’ve seen a lot,” he said, recounting previous floods. “This is by far the worst.”

Among the dead — in Perry, Knott, Letcher and Clay counties — were six children, at least three people in their 60s, at least two people in their 70s and an 81-year-old woman, Beshear said. Most of the people were killed in Knott County, a county of about 15,000 located around 150 miles southeast of Lexington.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Rick Childress, Marisa Iati and Andrea Sachs

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