State, federal, and local officials helping flood victims in eastern Kentucky updated President Joe Biden on Monday. The president and first lady visited various areas after a noontime briefing and media availability at Marie Roberts Elementary School in Lost Creek.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell outlined for the president the number of crews, donations, and dollars FEMA has utilized so far in the disaster. She said that more than 700 FEMA personnel are in the region and urban search and rescue teams remain on standby. FEMA crews continue to provide flood victims food, water, and shelter. Additionally, Criswell reported that FEMA had awarded more than $18 million in disaster assistance.
Governor Andy Beshear (D) and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers (R) joined the Bidens for a firsthand look at the damage. The president spoke after the tour, calling the damage heartbreaking. He told residents, “We’re staying until everyone is back to where they were.” While he acknowledged that the weather was beyond the government’s control, he noted that the response was not. “Everybody has an obligation to help,” Biden remarked.
Beshear told the president about the outpouring of support from residents and the entire state, including tornado-ravaged areas of western Kentucky. “Everywhere I look, helpers are stepping up,” Beshear said. He told the president about a young man in Letcher County who used his jet ski to rescue 10 people from flood waters.
The death toll from last month’s floods is currently at 37, but the governor expects the number to increase to 38. “These people deserve a large amount of credit for their courage and their stamina,” Biden responded.
FEMA approved additional counties for individual assistance over the weekend. While Beshear thanked the president for the quick response, he also voiced frustration with what he said were too many people denied help due to technicalities and not enough financial aid. Criswell promised the president the agency would contact everyone it previously denied to ensure the rejection was not the result of a technicality.
Biden amended on Sunday the commonwealth’s major disaster declaration to cover 100% of eligible costs – up from 75% originally authorized – for debris removal and emergency protective measures. The order will cover costs for a 30-day period of the state’s choosing within the first 120 days of the declaration.