Streams overflowed their banks and hundreds of homes and businesses were inundated as flooding caused by steady rain spread throughout the hills of eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.

Since the weekend, at least seven people have died in the flooding, and hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed.

"The water came up so fast," said Karen Epling, a daycare worker in eastern Kentucky's Olive Hill, where the rain turned usually placid Tygart Creek into a raging torrent. "We had 14 children. We loaded up on the bus and got out of here."

By midday Thursday, the rain had stopped across much of the Appalachian region, but water flowing from swollen tributaries continued to raise rivers and streams.

The Kentucky River was expected to remain high at least through Friday, with more precipitation forecast for late Thursday, and the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for north-central Kentucky.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner visited flood-ravaged southwest Virginia Thursday to assess the estimated $51 million in damage caused by drenching weekend rains. Warner made a disaster assistance request Wednesday for the area, where severe flooding swept away bridges and temporarily displaced more than a thousand people.

In Tennessee, a fast current on the swollen Cumberland River broke 11 barges carrying sand away from the tugboat pushing them. Three capsized and two others partially capsized. No one was injured, but four of the barges lodged in the Cheatham Dam, shutting down river traffic Thursday.

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton toured southeastern Kentucky Wednesday to assess flood-damaged areas with a disaster assessment team. An estimated 300 homes were damaged there.

Officials in 12 Kentucky counties have declared emergencies and were asking for state and federal help in the cleanup.

Eddie Lambert, emergency management director for Boyd County, along the Kentucky-West Virginia state line, said some 300 homes were damaged by flooding and about 100 people had to be evacuated, half by boat.

"We've had boats in areas where there aren't even any streams," Lambert said.

In West Virginia, which had largely been spared in earlier storms, as much as 5 inches of rain fell across western and central portions of the state Wednesday, causing streams to overflow and swamp low-lying neighborhoods. High water closed more than 140 roads in 20 counties.

Still, some residents managed to make the best of the situation. Jim Stahl and a half-dozen of his friends gathered along the swollen Cheat River in West Virginia for a rain-soaked tailgate, complete with nachos, beer and wine.

"The power went off at work, and we got sent home early," said Stahl, who works at a furniture factory. "We could be doing something useful, but we chose not to."