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Kentucky flooding

An aerial view of Jackson, Kentucky shows homes submerged under flood waters from the North Fork of the Kentucky River on July 28, 2022. (Photo: Leandro Lozada/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate Crisis Linked to Deadly Kentucky Floods

"Climate collapse is here, now... For all of us it means increasing instability and devastation if we fail to act."

Julia Conley

The planetary crisis was linked to at least 15 deaths in Kentucky Friday as heavy rains triggered what Gov. Andy Beshear called "one of the worst, most devastating flooding events" in the state's history.

"As we keep kicking the can on climate solutions, more lives will be lost in climate-based tragedies. We must act now."

Beshear declared a state of emergency in six counties Thursday afternoon as the storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain across eastern Kentucky, causing mudslides and washing away homes and roadways, with whole communities wiped out in some areas.

Search and rescue teams were deployed Friday following hundreds of air and water rescues the previous day, with some being airlifted from their rooftops.

"As we keep kicking the can on climate solutions, more lives will be lost in climate-based tragedies," said anti-poverty advocate Joe Sanberg. "We must act now."

Beshear said he feared the death toll would at least double. At least two of four young siblings, ranging in age from one and a half to eight, were among those who were identified as victims of the flooding. The children were swept away from their parents as the family clung to a tree after their home filled with floodwater. Family members were searching for the other two children Friday morning.

"The flooding that has hit Eastern Kentucky is absolutely devastating and there is even more rain expected," said Beshear. "Helping our families rebuild and recover is going to be a long, hard process."

More than 22,000 people were without power on Thursday night, and the state's Energy and Environment Cabinet recommended the evacuation of the floodplain of Panbowl Lake in Jackson, where flooding of the North Fork of the Kentucky River broke the previous record. The river crested at 43.47 feet in the town.

More than 100 homes, 13 businesses, a school, and a hospital were believed to be in the path of more flooding.

Climate experts say that as the climate warms, flash flooding will become more frequent and dangerous as rains become heavier during storms.

Florida-based meteorologist Jeff Berardelli pointed to the nine inches of rain that fell in Hazard, Kentucky over a 12-hour period as an example of the kind of weather event which was extremely rare several decades ago, but is becoming increasingly common as carbon emissions continue to heat the planet.

"To say it's an expected 1-in-1000 year event, in a 20th century climate, is an understatement," said Berardelli. "But with climate change, what was almost impossible then is now not only possible, it's probable."

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