At least 16 people are dead and many are unaccounted for after heavy rains caused major flooding in parts of Eastern Kentucky and surrounding Appalachian communities. More rains are in the forecast, with flood watches continuing until Friday night.
Homes, businesses and roadways were under water after severe weather hit parts of Kentucky and into West Virginia and Virginia earlier this week, and search and rescue efforts were continuing.
The disaster is "one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky's history," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.
Beshear deployed the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in several counties, reports member station WUKY's Karyn Czar. President Biden declared a major disaster for Kentucky on Friday and ordered federal aid in helping with recovery efforts.
At least 12 counties and two cities in Kentucky have also declared their own individual states of emergency.
Beshear told the Associated Press that some of the victims were children and that the death toll could more than double as emergency crews continue to search the area.
He said the lack of cell service and reliable forms of communication have prevented the state from gathering reliable numbers of those accounted for. Beshear estimates that nearly 300 people have been rescued by aircraft or boat.
The Kentucky River hit 6 feet above its previous record, and the water will likely not recede until Saturday, NPR's Jeanine Herbst reports.
Search and rescue teams, backed by the National Guard, are still searching for missing people. Emergency crews were able to airlift dozens of people.
WUKY's Josh James reported that hundreds of people are set to lose their homes, and recovery could take years in some parts of the state.
Ten shelters have taken in more than 300 people.
On Friday, state and local officials ordered evacuations for part of the city of Jackson, Ky., after concerns were raised of an imminent breach of the Panbowl Dam. As of Friday morning, Beshear said officials were "a little more optimistic but still concerned."
Power outages have continued into Friday for parts of Kentucky and Appalachian communities. Roughly 33,000 people lost power in the area, according to PowerOutage.US.
Heavy rains are expected to continue in Central and Eastern Kentucky. Certain areas will remain under a flood watch until 10 p.m. ET, according to the National Weather Service.
In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties where the flooding downed trees, knocked out power and blocked roads. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaration for flooded areas in the southwestern part of the state.
"With more rainfall forecasted over the next few days, we want to lean forward in providing as many resources possible to assist those affected," Youngkin said.