HINDMAN, Ky. (AP) — Temperatures were expected to soar on Wednesday in a region of eastern Kentucky where people are shoveling out from the wreckage of massive flooding, many in places without electricity.
The rising heat and humidity meant heat index values near 100 by midday, a steam bath that will continue through Thursday evening, the National Weather Service said. More than 400 National Guardsmen have been deployed across the disaster area, and the death toll remains at 37, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
Phillip Dix, the leader of a search-and-rescue team from Memphis, Tennessee, said his crew is used to intense heat and humidity, but the grind of 12-hour work days and the level of devastation they've seen in the flood-ravaged region was starting to take a toll.
“The guys are tired,” he said. "So you’ve got to watch them, make sure they’re hydrated more than usual.”
It was day six for his crew Wednesday as they resumed their search on foot and boats along the creeks and creekbeds of hard-hit Knott County.
“It’s a job to us, but talking to the local people, that kind of brings it down to the human level, which our guys have to deal with," Dix said. "You can’t just turn that switch off when you’re talking to someone who’s lost everything they had.”
Dix's team rescued 16 people during one two-day stretch, he said. They had no cell service, no electricity, no way to get through the high water and some were running short of food. The team reunited families, but also found two bodies in creeks strewn with debris and downed trees.
“The area that we were in, the houses were just gone,” Dix said. "These people that have lost everything they’ve got, they still make it a point to thank us for being up here.”
This week's weather added to the hardships in Knott County, where Kirsten Gomez's husband and cousin were gutting their doublewide trailer of drywall, flooring and cabinets ruined by floodwaters from nearby Troublesome Creek.
“It is so miserable. The humidity is so high, it takes your breath,” Gomez said Tuesday. “Your clothes stick to you. Your hair sticks to you. This mud is caked on you. ... But I’m just blessed that we don’t have rain anymore.”
Cooling centers were opened after forecasters warned of the risk of heat-related illnesses in an advisory issued for the flood-ravaged area.
More than 1,300 people have been rescued, and crews were still trying to reach some people who remain cut off by floods or mudslides. About 5,000 customers still lacked electricity in eastern Kentucky as of Wednesday morning, according to Poweroutages.com. Emergency shelters housed hundreds of residents who had homes destroyed or damaged.
The historic flooding also hit areas just across the state line in Virginia and West Virginia, where some people also remained without power.
President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to counties flooded after 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain fell in just 48 hours last week in the Appalachian mountain region.
Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Ky. Rebecca Reynolds contributed from Louisville, Ky.