FRANKFORT — More than half of Kentucky's 120 counties have declared states of emergency after last weekend's heavy storms.
On Tuesday, many areas hit by flash flooding on Sunday night were beginning to dry out. Cities and counties were trying to assess how much damage the two-day storm may cost. In other areas, the flooding had just begun as key rivers and creeks began to crest.
In Frankfort, all eyes were on the Kentucky River as it reached what appeared to be its crest on Tuesday, flooding some areas and shutting down some businesses, but causing no major injuries.
There have been four confirmed deaths attributed to the storm that pounded much of central and southern Kentucky with rain Saturday and Sunday. But rescuers were still looking for a Radcliff kayaker in the Green River around Munfordville on Tuesday, state officials said.
Robert W. Atcher has not been seen since Monday afternoon, when the kayak he was paddling hit a logjam on the swiftly running river and the current pulled him under water, state officials said.
Buddy Rogers, a spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said it's too early to say how much the storms will cost the state. Seventy counties and 22 cities have declared states of emergency so far, Rogers said. "That number is likely to increase," Rogers said.
Gov. Steve Beshear has asked for a federal emergency declaration for Kentucky, a move that could help trigger federal reimbursement for costs associated with the storm. Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, said in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor on Tuesday that he would urge President Barack Obama to issue a federal emergency declaration.
In Franklin County, emergency responders went door to door in flood-prone areas on Tuesday to warn people that the Kentucky River was rising at a rate faster than expected. Most of those contacted chose to leave, said Deron Rambo, Franklin Emergency Management Director. Several roads and local businesses along the river had to close on Tuesday.
Angela Traver, a spokeswoman for Buffalo Trace Distillery, said production stopped on Tuesday morning because of concerns about the rising water. Tours of the facility have also stopped indefinitely. Bourbon shipments have not stopped, she said.
Rambo said that weather forecasters have predicted that the river would hit its crest late Tuesday. The river was expected to recede on Wednesday. By Tuesday afternoon, the river had reached 42.7 feet, well above the flood stage of 31 feet.
In Cynthiana, Pleasant Street and Ky. 36 were temporarily closed Tuesday as the Licking River overflowed its banks and approached the Pleasant Street Bridge. The water had started to recede Tuesday evening, but Cynthiana police dispatcher Kathy Jackson said water remained over the road near the bridge.
She said several streets in Cynthiana were still closed due to flooding Tuesday night. Harrison County schools were closed Monday and Tuesday.
In south-central Kentucky, damage assessments were just beginning, and the news was sobering.
Liberty Mayor Steve Sweeney said damages in Liberty and Casey County could exceed $10 million.
Some people who own businesses along U.S. 127, where the flood reached a depth of 5 feet or more in some buildings Sunday evening, had started tearing out damaged drywall and piling it in their parking lots. The city arranged for delivery of large construction Dumpsters to collect debris.
Local leaders said they hope there will be assistance for small business owners hurt by the flood. Already, four business owners have told Sweeney they won't reopen.
Sweeney had talked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office about the potential for low-interest loans backed by local banks, and the city-county economic development authority approved spending more than $100,000 of its funds to help local businesses.