U.S. President Joe Biden pledged more federal help to flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky on Monday after touring the devastation, which he linked to climate change.
In the sweltering afternoon heat, Biden walked with families through the wreckage of their homes in an unincorporated community in the state's rural southeast.
One family saw their prefabricated home ripped from its cinderblock foundation and thrown on its side by the waters. Rows and rows of sodden corn, planted in neat lines, lay collapsed in the front yard.
In another family, two young boys, not yet school-aged, squirmed under the president's attention as their mother held them back from a new lake that appeared as the rain poured down. The new body of water lay a stone's throw from where their home had once stood, before it washed away. It slumped on the other side of the water, smashed into a small hill.
"No one has ever seen anything like the historic flooding that hit us on the night of July 26," Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said. "Hours of rainfall hammered these mountains, sending walls of debris-clogged water crashing through homes and businesses, sweeping them clear off their foundations, crashing them into bridges. And for some, their home is just gone. We don't even know where it is. Maybe not one scrap that we can locate."
Biden offered extensive support.
"We're staying — the federal government, along with the state and county and the city — we are staying until everyone is back to where they were," he said after visiting with families in Lost Creek, Kentucky, affected by the flooding.
He said the objective is not to "just to get back to where we were, it's to get back to better than where we were."
At least 37 people were killed in the flooding last week after storms dropped up to 26 centimeters of rain in some areas of eastern Kentucky in just 48 hours. Beshear said Monday that authorities expect to add at least one more death to the total.
Earlier Monday, Biden told a briefing with state and federal officials on the emergency response that climate change is leading to more weather disasters.
"As you all know, we've suffered the consequence of climate change, a significant number of weather catastrophes around the nation," Biden said.
Senate Democrats on Sunday passed an economic package that includes nearly $400 billion to fight climate change.
The administration describes the Inflation Reduction Act as making the "largest investment ever in combating the existential crisis of climate change."
It earmarks $369 billion for, among other things, working toward energy security and creating jobs manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles in the United States with American labor.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed concern about the increasing effects of climate change, saying, "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."
Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Kentucky last week, allowing federal funds to be used in the rescue and cleanup efforts.
Jean-Pierre said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $3.1 million in relief funds to Kentucky.
Beshear praised Biden's response to the flooding, saying Monday the president "acted with greater speed for that federal disaster declaration as well as for individual assistance to our families than I have ever seen."
Biden, who is traveling with his wife, Jill Biden, arrived in Kentucky Monday morning and was greeted by Beshear and his wife, Britainy Beshear.
They drove through parts of Breathitt County that were most affected by the storm and afterwards attended a briefing on the flooding's impact with first responders, also meeting with families who lost their homes in the disaster.
The National Weather Service has warned of the possibility of more flooding in Kentucky this week because of the potential for thunderstorms through Thursday.
This is Biden's second visit to Kentucky as president. He traveled to the state in December to view damage from tornadoes that killed 81 people.
Beshear said Monday "the trials and tribulations we Kentuckians have faced are hard to understand."
He added, however, that perhaps the state is better able to handle the crises "because of how we lean on one another in times of need."
Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.