On Friday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that at least 16 people have died, including two children, since the flooding began on Wednesday. Speaking with reporters hours later, he said that while he did not have an official update, authorities had located the bodies of an additional four children.
In his remarks, Beshear said the four children were identified by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Speaking with the newspaper, Brittany Trejo said that her young cousins, between the ages of 1 and 8, were swept away from their parents on Thursday.
Trejo told the newspaper that as water inundated their home, their parents — identified by Trejo as Amber Smith and Riley Noble, both of whom survived — “got on the roof” and “managed to get to a tree.”
“[They] held the children a few hours before a big tide came and wash[ed] them all away at the same time,” Trejo said, according to the outlet.
She told the newspaper that their parents were “stranded in the tree” for hours “before anyone got there to help.”
Trejo has launched a GoFundMe for the family.
As the scope of the devastation in Kentucky continues to unfold, Beshear has repeatedly warned that there will be more fatalities.
Although deaths have been reported in four counties, most have been in Knott County, the governor said on Friday afternoon. In addition to the children, the deaths of at least three people in their 60s, two people in their 70s, and an 81-year-old woman have been reported in Perry, Knott, Letcher, and Clay counties.
“To all the families that know you’ve already sustained a loss, we’re going to grieve with you, we’re going to support you, we’re going to be here for you,” the governor said.
The flooding — which in some areas is not expected to crest until Saturday — has also caused extensive property damage and left thousands without power, according to The Washington Post. On Friday, President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration.
According to The Washington Post, this week, Kentucky and Missouri — where one person died in St. Louis — were hit by 1,000-year rain events.
However, experts say that extreme precipitation events may become more common due to the climate crisis.
“There are many ways that climate change can cause floods,” NPR climate team member Rebecca Hersher explained in Friday’s Morning Edition episode.
“The kind of devastating heavy rain that we’ve seen this week is something that climate scientists have predicted for many decades — that, as humans keep burning fossil fuels, the atmosphere gets hotter, the air holds more moisture, and so, when it rains, it rains harder,” Hersher added.
Due to human-caused climate change, heavy rainfall is now about 20-40% more likely in eastern Kentucky than it was over 100 years ago, The Washington Post reported, citing the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment.
NPR’s Hersher pointed out that “unfortunately, these kinds of floods, they’re so frequent that they’re a part of life in some places.”
Speaking with CNN on Friday morning, Beshear acknowledged that even though eastern Kentucky often experiences flooding, “we’ve never seen something like this.”
In order to reduce the risk of the “new reality” of increasingly dangerous rainfall events, Hersher stressed that “there are lots of ways” to make improvements.
“Basically, you slow the water down, give it safe places to go. For example, have less pavement so the water can soak into the ground,” Hersher shared, noting that building retention ponds and increasing the size of pipes can also help.