Torrential rains unleashed flash flooding and mudslides in central Appalachia, damaging a Kentucky emergency official described as “catastrophic” on Thursday as rescue crews searched rising waters for stranded people.

There were reports of flash flooding, mudslides, and power outages across the mountainous region where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. Flood watches and warnings were in effect.

In hard-hit Perry County in eastern Kentucky, rescue crews worked throughout the night helping people stranded by floodwaters.

“It’s a catastrophic event,” said Perry County emergency management director Jerry Stacy, 54. “I’ve lived here in Perry County all my life and this is by the far the worst event I’ve ever seen.”

“We’re just in the rescue mode right now,” said, speaking with The Associated Press by phone as he struggled to reach his office in Hazard Thursday morning. “Extreme flash flooding and mudslides are just everywhere.”

Poweroutage.us reported more than 20,000 power outages in eastern Kentucky, and nearly 10,000 more in southern West Virginia and among the mountains of western Virginia.

Eastern Kentucky’s Floyd County declared a local state of emergency due to significant rainfall and flooding, Gov. Andy Beshear said. He said the Kentucky Emergency Management crews have been deployed there.

Roads in many areas weren’t passable after as much as 6 inches (15 cms) of rain had fallen in some areas by Thursday, and 1-3 more inches (7.5 cms) could fall, the National Weather Service said. People in low areas in Perry, Leslie, and Clay counties were urged to seek higher ground after multiple swift water rescues were reported.

The Breathitt County courthouse was opened as an overnight shelter, and the emergency management director Chris Friley said that the Old Montessori School would serve as a more permanent shelter once crews can staff it.

“It’s the worst we’ve had in quite a while,” Friley said early Thursday. “It’s county-wide again. There’s several spots that are still not accessible to rescue crews.”

Perry County dispatchers said that floodwaters washed out roads and bridges and knocked homes off of their foundations. The city of Hazard posted on Facebook that crews were out all night helping people. The city urged drivers to stay off roads and to “pray for a break in the rain.”

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