Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Flash flooding that swamped stretches of cropland has left some farmers facing the costly prospect of starting over with spring planting as Kentuckians continued to assess damage from the deadly torrents of weekend rain.

More than half of Kentucky's counties declared states of emergency, and Gov. Steve Beshear on Wednesday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for federal disaster assistance for drenched Kentucky farmers.

Four people were killed after the weekend's storms washed out roads and bridges across southern and central parts of the state. A kayaker remained missing Wednesday in the Green River, officials said.

Flood waters took a heavy toll on roads, but Wednesday, state transportation crews fanned out to repair damage, which included fixing pavement breaks, and cleaning up embankment slides and drainage failures.

"The enormity and pervasiveness of this event is almost unbelievable," Beshear said. "Recovery will be a team approach -- but we will recover."

Two boaters who clung to a tree after their boat tipped over in cold, rushing waters were rescued Tuesday evening in eastern Kentucky. One was taken to a hospital with hypothermia.

Across rural Kentucky, it's too early to put a dollar figure on crop losses, but in some areas more than half the corn crop was probably destroyed in portions of western Kentucky, said Bill Clary, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture.

"It may be possible to replant, depending upon how fast the ground dries and on the weather over the upcoming days and weeks," Clary said.

The wheat crop suffered significant damage, he said, but the situation "may be salvageable" for many farmers, depending on the depth of flood waters and how soon they recede. There were reports of widespread damage to fences, barns and other farm buildings, he said.

In water-logged south-central Kentucky, some corn fields in Warren County were ruined by high water and some maturing wheat was knocked to the ground by lashing rains, said Joanna Coles, the county's agricultural extension agent.

"It's a huge loss due to flooding," said Coles, who added there had been a lot of optimism early in the season. "It's not one of the obstacles that we usually have to face each year."

Nearly 90 percent of the county's corn crop had been planted before the flood, she said. Area farmers face a "sticky situation" in deciding whether to replant because "we're getting to the end of optimal corn planting time," she said.

Instead, they might have to switch plans and plant soybeans. Some farmers also faced the expensive prospect of reapplying fertilizer to flooded fields, she said.

Some wheat yields could be reduced after fields were beaten down by the rains, she said.

In Daviess County, farmers were bracing for more flooding from rising creeks that threatened to inundate bottom lands planted in corn. Clint Hardy, the county's ag extension agent, said losses could reach 30 percent or more of the corn crop in the western Kentucky county.

"It's going to be a huge expense," he said, adding that flooding had damaged "the most beautiful corn crop across our county that I've ever seen."

Meanwhile, Beshear sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday requesting the aid for Kentucky farmers. In the letter, Beshear noted that the flooding had impacted all facets of Kentucky's agricultural industry even though the flooding has not yet reached its peak.

The governor's office said the written request was the first step toward the process of obtaining a Secretarial Disaster Declaration, which would make federal assistance available to farmers statewide.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday banned until further notice recreational boating on both the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, including popular western Kentucky lakes Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

The Coast Guard says in a news release that the high, swiftly moving waters are filled with spilled hazardous materials, boat docks, piers, logs and other heavy debris.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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