Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear addressed what he called "one of worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history" on Thursday morning, saying that officials expect loss of life as rescuers searched the rising waters for people stranded and unaccounted for.
Torrential rains unleashed flash flooding and mudslides in parts of Kentucky, slamming the eastern part of the state particularly hard after thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain over the past few days.
"The situation right now is tough. There are people in eastern Kentucky on top of roofs waiting to be rescued," Beshear, a Democrat, said, adding that the water in most places is not receding and has yet to crest.
He also said that there are "a number of people" that are unaccounted for as water rescues continued into Thursday morning.
"And I’m nearly certain this is going to be a situation where we are going to lose some of them," Beshear said of those unaccounted for.
Beshear said the counties that have so far declared a state of emergency include Floyd, Breathitt, Clay and Pike.
Officials also expect "massive property damage," with potentially hundreds of families losing their homes, according to Beshear. He estimated it would take years for these families to rebuild and recover.
He said about 23,000 power customers statewide were without power. Water systems were down in several counties, with truckloads of water being brought to the affected areas.
Roads in many areas weren’t passable after as much as 6 inches of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches could fall, the National Weather Service said.
With the possibility of more rain in the forecast, Beshear said: "We probably haven’t seen the worst of it."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., both responded to the catastrophic flooding on Twitter.
"My prayers are with the families in Eastern Kentucky facing heavy floods, mudslides, and power outages this week. My team is in close contact with local officials and I’m ready to provide any help I can. Thank you to the first responders who are helping Kentuckians stay safe."
Paul called the flooding "horrific" and said his team is here to help Kentuckians.
Local officials in hard-hit Perry County in eastern Kentucky said the flooding washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off of their foundations.
"It’s a catastrophic event," said Perry County emergency management director Jerry Stacy, 54. "I’ve lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by far the worst event I’ve ever seen."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.