Extreme conditions in California and Kentucky force thousands from their homes

Wildfires and floods are causing more death and destruction across the nation as thousands are forced to evacuate their homes. Record flooding in Kentucky has now claimed 37 lives, and a fierce new fire in northern California has killed at least two people. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, fire and flood are causing more death and destruction across the nation. Record flooding in Kentucky has now claimed 37 lives, and a fierce new fire in Northern California has killed at least two people.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    In the Klamath National Forest, an apocalyptic scene. Smoke and flames engulfed roads and cloud the skies.

    The McKinney Fire is the largest California has seen this year. It is clearly visible from space. So far, it has burned more than 85 square miles with zero percent contained. Thousands have had to flee their homes.

    Artist Harlene Schwander is one of them. She says she has lost almost everything.

  • Harlene Schwander, Artist:

    I'm very sad. My house is gone, all my furniture, all my clothes, shoes, coats, boots. Everything is gone.

  • William Brangham:

    The fire started Friday…

  • Person:

    Oh, my God. Look at that burn!

  • William Brangham:

    … and has moved across thousands of acres over the weekend. It is spreading in the largely unpopulated Siskiyou County near Northern California's border with Oregon.

    Officials worn so-called drive thunderstorms seen here at night produce lightning without rain and could ignite new blazes.

  • Adrienne Freeman, Spokesperson, U.S. Forest Service:

    Lightning is not unusual on the Klamath. What is something to consider is that every strike has a greater potential right now to start a fire.

  • William Brangham:

    And, today, the fire claimed its first lives. Two bodies were found inside a burnt-out car in a residential driveway.

    But as flames rage in the West, it is the opposite in Kentucky, where flooding has killed dozens, including at least four children. Search teams scour the hills from above, while, on the ground, sniffer dogs joined in to try to find the many who are missing.

  • Judith Weckman, Canine Search Handler:

    There is human scent in the water, because others have drowned and then pushed through the water.

  • William Brangham:

    The torrential rains began last week. And, today, even more downpours slowed that rescue effort. Officials say they have restored cell service in the area, which could make it easier for people stranded to call for help.

    Tiffany Craft, Mayor of Whitesburg, Kentucky: After the water receded, the first thing I saw was roofs of houses. That is the only thing you could see while the water was flowing through.

  • William Brangham:

    We spoke earlier today with Tiffany Craft, mayor of Whitesburg, Kentucky, on the eastern edge of the state. She believes at least 80 percent of the homes in her town were destroyed.

  • Tiffany Craft:

    I have seen things that I, as a human being, never dreamed that I would see before. I have seen bodies called from the river, deceased bodies. I have seen people rescued by boat in two-story homes that are just — things like that, I still — I really fully can't describe it, what it's like right now.

    It is just total devastation, people taking out everything that they own and piling it on their front lawns, shoveling out mud in their living rooms where they were just sitting less than hours before. It is just — it's catastrophic here right now.

  • William Brangham:

    How do you bounce back from something like that?

  • Tiffany Craft:

    I don't know. I have wondered that too. I lay awake at night, and there's been many sleepless nights. I can't — I just sit and look on Main Street of the vibrant community we had. How are we going to rebuild and come back anytime soon and be what we used to be? We will. I know we will. But I just — I don't have an answer for that.

  • William Brangham:

    Residents here will likely endure at least another day or so of rain before these historic floods start to recede.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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