President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Monday witnessed the damage from deadly and devastating storms that have resulted in the worst flooding in Kentucky's history, as they visited the state to meet with families and first responders.
At least 37 people have died since last month's deluge, which dropped 8 to 10 1/2 inches of rain in only 48 hours. Gov. Andy Beshear told Biden that authorities expect to add at least one other death to the total. The National Weather Service said Sunday that flooding remains a threat, warning of more thunderstorms through Thursday.
The Bidens were greeted warmly by Beshear and his wife, Britainy, when they arrived in eastern Kentucky. They immediately drove to see devastation from the storms in Breathitt County, stopping at the site of where a school bus, carried by floodwaters, was crashed into partially-collapsed building.
Beshear said the flooding was “unlike anything we’ve ever seen” in the state and credited Biden with swiftly approving federal assistance.
He praised responders who "have moved heaven and earth to get where we are what about nine days from when this hit,” he said.
Attending a briefing on the flooding's impact with first responders and recovery specialists at Marie Roberts Elementary School in Lost Creek, Biden pledged the continued support of the federal government.
“We’re not leaving, as long as it takes, we’re going to be here,” he said.
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Biden emphasized that politics have no place in disaster response, noting his frequent political battles with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We battle all the times on issues,” Biden said, but in helping Kentuckians rebuild, “we’re all one team.”
The Bidens were later scheduled to tour another hard-hit community in the state and meet directly with those affected.
Monday's visit is Biden's second to the state. He previously visited in December after tornadoes whipped through Kentucky, killing 77 people and leaving a trail of destruction.
“I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky," Beshear said recently. "I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything. I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can. These are our people. Let’s make sure we help them out.”
Biden has expanded federal disaster assistance to Kentucky, ensuring the federal government will cover the full cost of debris removal and other emergency measures.
Jean-Pierre said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $3.1 million in relief funds, and hundreds of rescue personnel have been deployed to help.
“The floods in Kentucky and extreme weather all around the country are yet another reminder of the intensifying and accelerating impacts of climate change and the urgent need to invest in making our communities more resilient to it,” she said.
The flooding came just one month after Beshear visited Mayfield to celebrate the completion of the first houses to be fully constructed since a tornado nearly wiped out the town. Three families were handed keys to their new homes that day, and the governor in his remarks hearkened back to a visit he had made in the immediate aftermath.
“I pledged on that day that while we had been knocked down, we were not knocked out,” Beshear said. “That we would get back up again and we would move forward. And six months to the day, we’re not just up, we’re not just standing on our feet, we are moving forward.”
Now more disasters are testing the state. Beshear has been to eastern Kentucky as many times as weather permitted since the flooding began. He’s had daily news conferences stretching an hour to provide details including a full range of assistance for victims. Much like after the tornadoes, Beshear opened relief funds going directly to people in the beleaguered regions.
A Democrat, Beshear narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2019, and he's seeking a second term in 2023.
Polling has consistently shown him with strong approval ratings from Kentuckians. But several prominent Republicans have entered the governor’s race, taking turns pounding the governor for his aggressive pandemic response and trying to tie him to Biden and rising inflation.
Beshear comments frequently about the toll surging inflation is taking in eating at Kentuckians’ budgets. He avoids blaming Biden, instead pointing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply chain bottlenecks as contributors to rising consumer costs.
Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky and Megerian reported from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.