At least eight people are dead and officials fear that number will increase after rain battered the eastern part of Kentucky, flooded streets and left people stranded on roofs and hanging from trees, authorities said Thursday.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said people are still unaccounted for after the region received an estimated 8 to 12 inches of rain overnight.
“This is by far the worst flooding disaster at least of my lifetime in Kentucky," Beshear said in an interview with "NBC Nightly News" host Lester Holt on Thursday evening.
"It has wiped out what we believe are hundreds of homes. We have half of some of our counties under water. We are going to lose double digit lives. I know we’ve already lost at least eight, but I know there are many more than that.”
Drone video from Garrett County in eastern Kentucky shows homes, gas stations and cars partially submerged in water. One resident can be seen navigating the floods on a jet ski, while others wait in a boat.
Another 2 to 3 inches could fall Thursday night and over the weekend, with most of the rain coming overnight, according to the governor.
As many as 4 million people remain under flood alerts across Kentucky, southern Ohio, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.
"Hundreds of Kentucky families are going to lose everything," Beshear told Holt.
"It is tough right now, we have helicopters in the air. We’ve done air rescues for more than 20 people. We have folks in some counties on their roofs or even stuck in a tree holding on until we can reach them and we are receiving help and we’re grateful. We’ve got helicopters that are coming in from West Virginia as well as Tennessee."
Earlier in the day, the governor said in a press conference the state expects "massive property damage" that will take "not months, but likely years for many families to rebuild and recover from." A total of 25,111 people are without power statewide, he added.
Beshear has activated the Kentucky National Guard and signed a state of emergency, which will "unlock the resources needed and also tell the people of eastern Kentucky that we are going to be there for them," he said. Beshear also established the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund to secure funding for "families in need," he tweeted.
On Thursday evening, Beshear tweeted that he had made a direct request to President Joe Biden for federal assistance.
"The damage suffered is enormous and recovery will be a long-term effort," he said. "This assistance is critical to our efforts and essential for our people."
The sheriff in Perry County, where two of the deaths occurred, described the flooding as something "unlike (anything) I’ve ever seen."
Authorities have not released the names of the victims.
"We’ve had reports coming in all night of people that we’ve just not been able to get to," Perry County Sheriff Joe Engle told NBC News. "So hoping that the water will recede and come down to be able to get them, but I’m not sure how many people are still trapped."
Perry County Emergency Management Director Jerry Stacy told The Associated Press that “we’re just in the rescue mode right now.”
“Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere,” he said by phone Thursday morning as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted about the floods, urging anyone in need of assistance to contact his office.
"Praying for all those affected," he wrote.