Beshear: 'Next 2 to 3 days are critical'

FRANKFORT — At least four people are dead and hundreds of roads and schools are still closed after a brutal two days of storms, state authorities said Monday.

The storm drenched much of southern and Central Kentucky with up to 11 inches of rain over the weekend, causing widespread flooding.

At a news conference, Gov. Steve Beshear said initial estimates show at least $6.2 million in damages, a number that is expected to grow in coming days.

Beshear cautioned that water levels probably will continue to rise near streams and rivers despite Monday's balmy weather. The Kentucky River in Frankfort, for example, was to crest at 39.6 feet — more than 7 feet above flood stage — by 8 a.m. Tuesday. It was at 38.4 feet about 8 p.m. Monday.

"The next two to three days are critical," Beshear said. "While the rains have passed, the rivers and the streams and the creeks are still rising, and many of them will not reach their crest until tomorrow, and a few until the day after tomorrow."

The National Weather Service is predicting mostly clear, sunny weather for much of the state until late Thursday, when another round of storms is likely.

Beshear asked for a federal emergency declaration, a move that could trigger federal money to help pay for damages related to the storm. Beshear also officially declared a state of emergency and issued a declaration intended to help deter price gouging of storm-related supplies. Beshear said four confirmed deaths had been attributed to the storm by late Monday.

As of Monday afternoon, 41 counties and 15 cities had declared states of emergency. Beshear said those counties particularly hard-hit include Casey, Metcalfe and Monroe. Forty-nine school districts were closed or delayed the start of classes Monday, Beshear said.

John Heltzel, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, said much of the damage is from destroyed roads, and water and sewage treatment plans. It's not clear how many water or sewage treatment plants have been knocked offline because of the storms. An estimated 1,500 people in the McKinney area in Lincoln County were without water because of a broken line.

More than 400 roads in 76 counties have been closed since the rain began Saturday. By Monday afternoon, there were sections of about 330 roads still closed. Some of those roads have been washed out and probably will not reopen for some time, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials said.

Some roads that were shut down temporarily include Ky. 15 on the Clark-Powell county line and Ky. 715 in Menifee County. Ky. 921 in Barren County will be closed because a 20-foot section of pavement is gone. Roads and bridges were ravaged throughout Lincoln County — Judge-Executive Bill Demrow called it "extreme damage."

Beshear said more than 1,000 state road employees were working to clear roads and assess damage to bridges.

Almost 40 members of the Kentucky National Guard have been activated to help with the storm and more probably will be added in coming days, said Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, the state's adjutant general.

Beshear expressed remorse about those who died because of the storms and stressed that motorists should avoid traveling through flood waters.

"I cannot stress strongly enough ... that the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky be extremely careful when trying to handle flood waters," Beshear said. "Out of the four confirmed deaths, three of those are a result of someone being swept away by flood waters when they have tried to cross those flood waters."

The latest death was confirmed late Monday afternoon.

Troy Gingrass, the Lincoln County Emergency Management Director, said Walter Cornett, 48, of Stanford, was found Monday afternoon. Cornett and a friend had driven a van into flood waters and had gotten trapped sometime before 9 p.m. Sunday, Gingrass said. "They both climbed on top of the vehicle," he said.

Cornett slipped and apparently drowned. Rescuers found Cornett about three-quarters of a mile downstream from the vehicle.

In Allen County, officials said search crews found the body of a man whose truck ran off the road Sunday into a flooded creek. Officials said the man's body was about a mile away from where he went off the road.

Jerrie D. Donohue, 27, of Barren County, died after she and her husband, James Donohue, drove into water covering Dover Church Road in the southern part of the county, said Coroner Mike Swift.

The two got out of their Chevy Cobalt, and firefighters rescued James Donohue from where he was lodged between two trees, but Jerrie Donohue was swept away by the water. Authorities found her body after the water receded.

State police at Richmond said Carl D. Rogers, 65, of 105 Otter Creek Road, Richmond, died at his home as rescue teams arrived.

Rogers' home was surrounded by water, police said, but rescuers were unable to reach him because of waist-high water and electricity problems.

Rogers fell into the water and might have been electrocuted, police said.

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