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Northeast Kentucky deluged by rain, flooding

By Mark Morgenstein, CNN
Pike County residents clean up after the flooding.
Pike County residents clean up after the flooding.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Three counties and two cities have declared local states of emergency
  • NEW: Governor Steve Beshear may determine Thursday if Kentucky will request federal assistance
  • Rescuers are busy, buildings washed away as area receives up to half a foot of rain
  • Emergency management official says there are no known fatalities or missing people
RELATED TOPICS
  • Floods
  • Kentucky

(CNN) -- Up to half a foot of torrential rain in northeastern Kentucky has led to swift-water rescues, propelled a truck into a tree and washed away homes and businesses -- and more severe weather is on the way.

"We're trying to get a hold on this. It's just awful," said Brandon Roberts, a spokesman for the Pike County judge executive, the top elected official in the county. "It's so bad. ... It's so bad. People might not even be aware it's raining. They're a hundred yards away from where they used to be."

Roberts said Wednesday that floodwater had washed "well over 200 homes," including a brick house, off their foundations. He added that the water picked up a Ford F-350 truck and carried it into a tree.

CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said there was an even a higher chance of thunderstorms and heavy rain in the region Wednesday than there was Tuesday. Some parts of Kentucky were under flood advisories, and over the next few days, some locations could get 2 more inches of rain, he said.

Roberts said that in a twisted way, more heavy rain could help cleanup efforts by clearing roads and driveways of accumulated mud and debris.

Larry Colley, a Garrison, Kentucky, firefighter, was part of a swift-water rescue team that helped an elderly woman trapped in her house Wednesday morning. He said that in Lewis County, rescuers saw people "evacuated, people trapped, people on roofs."

Even firefighters attempting rescues were trapped when water enveloped the roads between the fire department and the rescue site, he said.

Orchid's, a family grocery store, was one of the businesses swept away by floodwater, Colley said. The store, located in Emerson, Kentucky, was also home to a post office.

Deputy Judge Jerry Alderman, who works for the Fleming County judge executive, the top elected official in the county, said Wednesday that though there had been much damage to roads in his county, the main road, Kentucky 377, remained passable. He said he was unaware of any flood-related electricity issues.

Fleming County Sheriff Scotty Royse said Wednesday that his county also saw damage to roads, particularly to a bridge "right on the county line." One rescue was performed Tuesday night, he said, but no flood-related injuries or deaths had been reported.

"We have damage, but knock on wood no one was hurt," he said.

Between 6 to 9 inches of rain fell from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, Royse said.

Woody Graham, owner of A.W. Graham Lumber, said much of his inventory was affected by the floodwater.

"People just don't realize how quick this water can move things," he said. Several cargo containers that weighed about 85 pounds each were displaced easily, he said. "The water just picked them up and moved them like they were nothing."

Buddy Rogers, a Kentucky Emergency Management spokesman, said Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state teams will continue assessing damage in Pike County. He said Lewis, Carter and Rowan counties and the cities of Grayson and Olive Hill in Carter County have declared states of emergency after being hit with 4 inches of rain in two hours late Wednesday morning.

"I saw a truck that looked like it could be a 4-foot ball of metal," Rogers said.

There were no new fatalities or missing people, he said. He urged local residents to heed National Weather Service warnings and avoid driving through flooded areas.

Rogers also said he expects Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to determine on Thursday, after seeing final numbers, whether to request federal assistance.

Flood victim Lee Burke told CNN affiliate WCHS on Tuesday that community support has been great during the crisis. "We got tons of food and cleaning supplies," he said. "The community has really stepped up and helped us out."

Local law enforcement, however, says it has been forced to arrest several community members for looting flood victims' homes.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Keesee also told WCHS on Tuesday that his agency was working overtime to keep flood victims safe. Only residents were being allowed to enter flood zones, he said.

"We are doing everything we can to keep people out who are possibly looting these people who have lost everything they have," he said.

This week's flooding came on the heels of heavy rain last weekend. Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne Rutherford on Sunday said two fatalities had occurred during that flooding.

CNN's Mark Morgenstein and Emily Evans contributed to this report.