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Rescue crews from across Kentucky are searching for missing flood victims

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

More than three dozen people have died in the flash flooding that hit parts of eastern Kentucky. Karyn Czar of member station WUKY spent the day yesterday with a search team and brings us this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: 10-38 (inaudible).

KARYN CZAR, BYLINE: These men and women have been working nonstop since Thursday. Each morning, plans for the day are coordinated. Captain Greg Watts with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife gives each group its mission.

GREG WATTS: Load a UTV when you go out. Come back, if you have to, that way. And if you need additional stuff, let me know. We will get it back down there to you. That way, you can stay on task.

CZAR: Cell service is spotty at best in this rural and mountainous part of Kentucky. Fish and Wildlife officers Kyle Clark and Dakota Turner are going into areas that had been unreachable until the floodwaters receded. They're looking for people who are listed as missing and taking supplies to those who want to stay in their homes. The crew's truck is loaded with food and water. Turner is at the wheel, as Clark navigates the winding backroads and hills of central Appalachia. At their first stop, an hour away, they find loose dogs and wandering livestock.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

CZAR: There are four mobile homes along a winding gravel drive. The team goes door to door.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

CZAR: They find a woman living in one home who says she's safe and wants to stay. The next address on the list is on the other side of the county, which means crossing a rugged mountain, jostling through potholes and avoiding several mudslides and debris. At the next stop, the missing man we're looking for isn't home. But his neighbor, Stella Campbell, gives Officer Clark some good news.

STELLA CAMPBELL: Yeah, he's OK.

KYLE CLARK: OK. Somebody called in - said they hadn't been able to talk to him or anything.

CAMPBELL: 'Cause we have no electric, no internet, no nothing.

CLARK: I know, but some - one of his family members, I guess, had called...

CAMPBELL: Yeah. He's good 'cause he just went out to the holler.

CZAR: For the next nine hours, Officer Clark and Turner monitor radio chatter and drive endlessly.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's 10-4. Can you check on him?

CZAR: They crisscross five counties, and they're just one of several dozen rescue crews doing this same thing right now. As the water recedes, Turner says there are major challenges to reaching Kentuckians who haven't been able to get help yet from the flooding.

DAKOTA TURNER: We got places it's going to take several months just to get roads to access into the areas. There's no power. There's no cellphone signals in most of these places. So people don't know if their family's alive or not - if so, what kind of shape they're in.

CZAR: Stop after stop, this crew finds missing people alive and well. You can feel the relief. Then a report of a victim found by another team comes in, and a heaviness returns for both Turner and Clark.

TURNER: Something you'll deal with the rest of your life. It's just - you just get used to doing it at this point.

CLARK: You just kind of block it all out. Somebody's got to do it. So we're - that's what we're here for as first responders.

CZAR: While there is grief for the newest confirmed loss, Clark focuses on the positive.

CLARK: It's always good whenever you can go to their house and mark somebody's name off the list. And you find out that they actually got out.

CZAR: Turner, who has found seven bodies so far, says he'll keep searching for the missing.

TURNER: Even though we did clear the list we had today, there's still a list of people still missing.

CZAR: So he says he'll keep going out and do whatever he can to help.

For NPR News, I'm Karyn Czar in Hazard, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karyn Czar