Monday, 25 Sep 2023

Biden Tours ‘Heartbreaking’ Kentucky Flood Damage

The president said he wanted to ensure the area was rebuilt in a way that made it more resilient to natural disasters that he described as a consequence of climate change.

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By Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Christopher Flavelle

WASHINGTON — During his first official trip after recovering from the coronavirus, President Biden flew to eastern Kentucky on Monday and committed federal resources to families whose homes had been condemned or washed away by some of the worst flooding in the state’s history.

After flying over stranded cars and buses and landing to find toppled homes and a shelled-out school, Mr. Biden told local officials his administration would cover the cost of the emergency response to the torrential rain and flooding that left at least 37 people dead.

“Everybody has an obligation to help,” said Mr. Biden, who was standing in front of a condemned home. He added that he wanted to ensure the area was rebuilt in a way that made communities more resilient to deadly storms, floods and natural disasters that he described as a consequence of climate change.

Mr. Biden also said the legislation that the Senate passed Sunday, which includes the largest expenditures ever made by the federal government to slow global warming and to reduce demand for fossil fuels, would help Kentuckians rebuild. His comments were likely the start of a fresh campaign to galvanize Democratic voters around his signature legislative win ahead of the midterm elections.

But it will take time for such investments to have an impact on disaster-prone communities. Even with available federal funds, many poor and rural areas lack sufficient capacity to rebuild efficiently. Businesses often lack flood-proofing systems, and many homes remain in plains prone to rising waters.

Few of the homes affected by flooding in the areas hardest hit in Kentucky had flood insurance, according to federal data.

Land in Kentucky built to serve coal miners working underneath hills and mountains has been especially vulnerable to floods after many mines shuttered, leaving homes unprotected to rising waters in nearby rivers. Mr. Biden said on Monday that the state would find help in his bipartisan infrastructure package, which tripled, to $700 million annually, a program intended to reduce damage from flooding by buying or elevating homes at risk from floods.

“It really is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to rebuild in that kind of way, and that runs head-on into human nature,” said Chad Berginnis, the executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. “I’d imagine after all that suffering, I would just want to get back to normal. That’s the human nature side of this, but it is so important we pause and thoughtfully rebuild so that next flood doesn’t happen.”

That human cost was apparent on Monday. Mr. Biden said it was “incredibly heartbreaking” to see stranded vehicles washed away into creeks and large piles of debris. Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said the death toll was likely to rise to 38 people.

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