At least fifteen people have died in flooding after heavy rains in the US state of Kentucky. Families and children were among the victims, Governor Andy Beshear told CNN on Friday morning.

Given the extent of the floods, authorities fear the death toll could rise significantly. “We will lose double-digit numbers of lives,” Governor Beshear said.

It is the worst flood disaster he has ever experienced in the southeastern state. Hundreds of homes are expected to be destroyed. “Hundreds of families in Kentucky will lose everything,” he told NBC News.

In order to be able to mobilize additional personnel and resources, the Democrat politician declared a state of emergency. He also used the National Guard to provide support. The hardest hit was the east of the state, whose landscape is shaped by rivers such as the Mississippi, the Ohio or the Big Sandy and the Appalachian mountain range.

Flash floods and landslides also hit the neighboring states of Virginia and West Virginia. According to NBC, there was a flood warning for around four million people in the area. According to data from the website, around 30,000 households in the three affected states were without power.

Pictures showed flooded streets and washed away cars. People were rescued from the air with helicopters and on the water with inflatable boats. In some places only the roofs of the houses could be seen.

The flood came suddenly, a resident of a mobile home told the Perry County newspaper Lexington Herald Leader: “It was like a wave coming out of the sea.”

His partner was washed away but then, with the help of a neighbor, clung to a tree until they were both rescued about two hours later. “I was terrified and I was sure I was going to die,” said the 29-year-old.

Her home was swept away by the floodwaters. Governor Beshear said he expects massive property damage. “For many families, it will probably take years, not months, to rebuild and recover.”