Months after deadly flooding eastern Kentucky over the summer, Governor Andy Beshear said the death toll has now risen to 44 across six counties.
The majority of those who died were from Knott County, where four children died.
Beshear said the latest death was a Letch County woman, May Amburgey, 97.
A photo of Amburgey sitting in her flooded bedroom had gone viral in the aftermath of the storm.
"Her death was related to this disaster," the governor said on Dec. 22. "Our thoughts are with her loved ones."
Beshear said the state's sheltering program has 266 households in eastern Kentucky in travel trailers provided through the program.
55 people are still sheltering at state parks, "that continues to go down from our height of 360," he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still operating in the region and nearly half a million tons of debris have been removed from roadsides and waterways.
"Continue to pray for the families that have suffered an unfathomable loss, some have lost almost everyone in their household," Beshear said previously.
More than 1,400 people were rescued by boat and helicopter. Fourteen counties and three cities declared emergencies.
Following the disaster, Beshear quickly launched the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund to help flood survivors as they work to rebuild.
As of December 2022, over $13 million has been raised to help survivors. Over $4.3 million has been dispersed.
Donations help with food, shelter and other necessities of life and go towards any emergency funds that come into the area.
The governor said the first expenditure will be for providing money to the families who have lost loved ones so they can have funerals.
"The least we ought to be able to do is grieve together," he said. "It's the least we can do, is to be there with these folks in this incredibly difficult time."
'By far the worst': State of emergency declared
Governor Beshear declared a state of emergency directly following the storm, enacting the National Guard to begin mobilizing for rescue operations.
The governor took a helicopter fly-over of some of the impacted communities, later saying this flood is "by far the worst" he's ever seen.
"Hundreds of homes, their ball fields, their parks, businesses, under more water than I think any of us have ever seen in that area, absolutely impassable in numerous spots, so just devastating," he said.
Beshear said many Kentuckians were missing and an exact number wasn't reliable in the immediate aftermath due to the level of destruction.
"Communication is still very difficult. We're trying to amplify cell service," Beshear said. "It's going to be very challenging to get a good number, but what people can do is to report their unaccounted loved one."
The governor says those with missing loved ones should email state police at email@example.com or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. He said to not call 911 for missing people, it should only be used for emergencies.
"We're gonna do our best to find them all," he said.
Shelters have been established to help displaced people. Those shelters are located in the following state parks:
- Pine Mountain State Resort Park
- Jenny Wiley State Resort Park
- Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park
What happened?: 8-10.5" of rain in 48 hours
As rainfall hammered Appalachia, water tumbled down hillsides and into valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and streams coursing through small towns.
The torrent engulfed homes and businesses and trashed vehicles. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.
When the rain finally let up on July 29, parts of eastern Kentucky had received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches over 48 hours. But some waterways were still not expected to crest until the next day.
"I believe it will be one of the most significant, deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time," Beshear said.
The floodwaters raging through Appalachia were so swift that some people trapped in their homes couldn’t be immediately reached, said Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams.
Just to the west in hard-hit Perry County, authorities said some people remained unaccounted for and almost everyone in the area suffered some sort of damage.
“We’ve still got a lot of searching to do,” Jerry Stacy, the county’s emergency management director, said.
'We are grateful.': Incoming federal aid
FEMA response teams remain on the ground in eastern Kentucky assisting with rescue efforts.
Renters and homeowners in eight counties, including Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Whitley can now apply for individual disaster assistance.
How to file for individual assistance:
- Click here to file online
- Call 800-621-3362
- Or use the FEMA mobile app
So far, the governor says more than $42 million in grants have been approved under the FEMA program for more than 5,200 households.
Beshear reassured Kentuckians impacted by the catastrophic flooding that help is on the way and will remain there as long as it's needed.
"We're gonna be there for them today," Beshear said. "We're gonna be there for them once they're safe and when they're thinking of what's next as well."
President Joe Biden approved Beshear's request for federal aid to help with recovery efforts in 13 eastern Kentucky counties.
"We asked for this last night; it came early this morning -- one of the fastest disaster declarations we've seen, and we are grateful for it," the governor said.
FEMA has also approved additional disaster funding for eastern Kentucky after Biden added Individual Assistance to the Major Disaster declaration.
'Boots on the ground': Louisville groups head east
Multiple organizations are now getting ready to assist, like the American Red Cross and the Veteran's Club.
Within 12 hours of receiving a call asking if she could make the trip, Cindy Keeney was already packing up supplies.
"[It's] an opportunity to give back -- it's an opportunity to do something in times of crisis," Keeney said.
Jeremy Harrell, the founder of the Veteran's Club, said they're preparing to head to southeastern Kentucky, just like they did for Mayfield.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian organization Save the Children has a base in Madison County. And through more than 400 staff members, they're providing necessities for the kids impacted.
Shane Garver, head of Education, Hunger and Resilience work in the U.S. with Save the Children, said they have diapers, wipes, car seats and cribs.