WINCHESTER, Ky. — Catastrophic flooding has killed at least 37 people in Eastern Kentucky, and leaders expect that number to increase as rescue operations begin to shift to recovery efforts.
Kentucky crews have worked for days to rescue more than 1,300 people and are still trying to reach some who were cut off by floods and mudslides.
“It is absolutely devastating out there. It’s going to take years to rebuild. People left with absolutely nothing. Homes that we don’t know where they are, just entirely gone. And we continue to find bodies of our brothers and sisters that we have lost,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
The Tennessee National Guard, as well as other swiftwater rescue agencies from East Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky, helped save people and animals trapped by floodwaters.
Guardsmen took photos from the air during operations over the weekend showing severe flooding forming river-like systems in the hills and ridges of Eastern Kentucky. Numerous homes, businesses and churches were mostly submerged underwater.
On Sunday, the guardsmen returned home to Tennessee safely. They are on standby if more bad weather occurs, but as of Tuesday, some were seeing floodwaters recede.
For hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed, emergency shelters had been set up to provide them a place to stay and cool off. As of Tuesday, nearly 430 people were staying at 11 such shelters, and 191 more were being housed temporarily in state parks, Beshear said.
“It’s going to get really, really hot. And that is now our new weather challenge,” Gov. Beshear said at his Tuesday morning briefing on the disaster.
The American Red Cross worked with volunteers who helped them stock up on water, food, clothes and more. Some evacuees arrived with trash bags containing only what they could carry with them.
A Maryville, Tenn. man arrived to help direct one of the shelters inside an elementary school in Campton, Ky. He said the basic essentials were the most needed.
"Talking with them, it's been rather eye-opening. Stories of desperation," Sam McNamee said. "Many of them were awakened by the rain...the floods. They went out their second-story window into a boat floating in the second story with whatever they could throw in a bag at the moment."
Carla Collier, a school nurse, said she wanted to volunteer after seeing the flooding.
"We're not really strangers to flooding, but this has been worse than any flood I've ever seen," she said. "I have just a couple of weeks before my son returns to college, but I thought it was important to take some time out and help where I could."
The Red Cross said people who'd like to help can provide donations at this link, saying monetary donations will help quickly direct relief efforts to what's needed at that moment more than hard goods at the moment. The Red Cross has also provided a list of organizations seeking help at this link.
Law enforcement officers are warning people in flood-devastated areas to be wary of looters. Breathitt County Sheriff John Hollan said his department had received nearly 20 calls about looters and thieves over the weekend.
"These people have lost everything that they had, and we don't want just anybody coming in and taking advantage because they can," Sheriff Hollan said.
Authorities are also warning about scam calls claiming to be from FEMA. A spokesperson said to never accept those calls before applying for aid. They say once you do apply -- you'll get a secure 9-digit ID.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.