Kentucky Lt. gov. Coleman on Flood Recovery Efforts (VIDEO)

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By Newsy employees
August 4, 2022

Coleman says the state’s police, National Guard and fish and wildlife rescue teams have conducted 1,300 rescues to date and are still ongoing.

Flooding has devastated parts of eastern Kentucky, killing 37 residents. Gov. Andy Beshear expects the death toll to rise as recovery efforts continue. However, around 1,300 rescue operations have been carried out so far, and more are underway. Lt. gov. Jacqueline Coleman spoke to Newsy’s “Morning Rush” to discuss the disasters that have hit the state and how the state can deal with them in the future as climate change could bring more and more problems.

NEWSY’S ALEX LIVINGSTON: Thank you for being with us today. It’s such a pleasure to have you with us. But what’s the latest on the situation in eastern Kentucky that you can tell us?

LT. REG. JACQUELINE COLEMAN: Well, thank you for inviting me and thank you for drawing attention to such a terrible tragedy that is happening in the eastern part of our state right now. As of this morning, we still have 37 confirmed deaths in Kentucky. As the governor says every time he gets a chance to speak to Kentuckians, we expect that number to continue to rise as the water recedes. We’re still in search and rescue mode. We have the National Guard, we have support from West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and our National Guard, our KSP, and our fish and wildlife experts have done 1,300 rescues so far and they’re still going.

NEWSY’S JAY STRUBBERG: How many people are still missing at the moment? What are the biggest challenges you face in the rescue?

COLEMAN: One of the biggest challenges we are currently facing has to do with communication. As you can imagine, all communication in certain areas that had patchy connectivity from the start was a real struggle. And so we’re working to get all of those communications working again. We are in the most difficult areas to maintain at this point. But when communication comes back, we can connect more families and accommodate more people. But for now, we suspect hundreds are still missing and unreported.

LIFE TONE: Does the geography of the eastern part of the country also present difficulties? I know we had our weather forecaster there and he spoke to some people who lived in Hollers and I know from my work in West Virginia and the experience that they might find themselves in rough terrain and areas that are difficult to access. Does that even play a role in the rescue effort?

COLEMAN: It is absolute. I was in several of the hardest hit districts just yesterday. I was in the Letcher County, Knott County, Leslie and Clay County areas all day yesterday and what I kept hearing was that the terrain made it really difficult to get to people. But I will say this: You see stories of people delivering meals and much-needed supplies on ATVs and on horseback because the roads are down, bridges are down. I spoke to a couple of county judges yesterday. I think Letcher County said there were about 16 bridges that they knew were out so far. In Knott County it was 60 like 6-0. These are public and county bridges. Not counting all the private driveways and culverts that used to take people from their homes to the main roads, the work continues. We’re right now back counting to see what the actual damage is. The extent of the damage is overwhelming. I can see it on the faces of eastern Kentucky residents and our locally elected officers, our Kentucky emergency management people who work around the clock to save lives and make sure people have what they need. The tragedy is heartbreaking, but what we are seeing of our fellow Kentucky citizens is heartwarming and it renews my faith in humanity to see how wonderful these people are who have lost everything. They come to their neighbors and help out. Entering Letcher County High School yesterday, I got chills and tears in my eyes at the number of students and parishioners. People two hours away who drove up to help get people what they needed. It’s remarkable. It gives me hope that we’re in it for the long haul.

STRUBERG: Yes, there is a silver lining to tragedies like this how good they are at bringing communities together and [seeing people] help eachother. It’s good to see that. Obviously, the immediate concern is the safety of residents, the rescue of missing residents, and the recovery effort. Over the longer term, these extreme weather events — whether it’s the Kentucky floods or the heat waves we’re seeing along the West Coast with the wildfires — are becoming more extreme, they’re happening more frequently, and we keep hearing the words climate change being brought up. What is your state doing to prepare for the consequences of the climate crisis?

COLEMAN: Well, I have to say that as I said, we’re still in the search and rescue mission phase for now, and that’s the focus right now. But I can tell you, before we were struck by this tragedy, one of the governor’s commitments was to build the economy of the future. And he’s done that, landing two of the largest economic development deals in Kentucky history to become home to Ford’s dual electric vehicle battery plants. We will be the future of electric vehicle batteries that Ford has been betting on. In Bowling Green, AESC Envision does the same. This is the western part of the state. In the eastern part of the state, we work to ensure that Kentucky is the Agri-Tech hub of the United States with more efficient and effective farming and farming practices that conserve water and do what it takes to feed a growing nation, and do so effectively and efficiently do. Again, this is a long-term plan. We started doing this as soon as we took office as part of our economic development package. But we’ve been hit by the tornadoes in the west and now the floods in the east. We continue to work on this, but we have certainly made this a core part of our economic development.

STRUBERG: Kentucky Lt. gov. Jacqueline Coleman, thank you for your time. Obviously some devastating developments in your state. We’re glad you’re coming to the show.

COLEMAN: Many Thanks. Thank you very much.

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