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Heavy Rains Bring Flooding To Parts Of Kentucky, West Virginia

An inundated vehicle near Hindman Settlement School in Knott Co., KY.
Submitted photo
An inundated vehicle near Hindman Settlement School in Knott Co., KY.

Dozens of counties in Kentucky and West Virginia are cleaning up flood damage from heavy rains over the weekend. In Kentucky, a total of 34 counties and cities have declared states of emergency, including Breathitt, Calloway, Casey, Elliott, Estill, Johnson, Knott, Magoffin, Owsley, Perry and Pike counties and the cities of Paintsville and Salyersville. Of these, many are in eastern Kentucky.

Pike County Emergency Management Director Doug Tackett was assessing damage early on Monday. 

“We got a lot going on this morning,” Tackett said over the crackling sounds of 911 dispatches. 

Tackett said he has heard reports of mudslides, and many streams draining into the Big Sandy River have burst their banks. The county has dispatched a swift water rescue team to assist people who are trapped in their homes or cars.

Much of eastern Kentucky was hit by flooding a year ago, and Tackett said he feels local communities are coordinated, and prepared to respond. 

“We’ve been in touch with other counties to see if they need assistance, and we’re monitoring everything,” Tackett said. “If we need help, we reach out to them, they reach out to us, and we help each other as much as we can.”

Meanwhile, partner station West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported Monday that more than 100 roadways were blocked or damaged and approximately 8,000 electric utility customers were without power Monday. The electric utility tracking site PowerOutage.US reported about 23,000 power outages Monday in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. 

Flooding risk has increased in the region. The Ohio Valley ReSource reported in February that a new analysis of flood risk data shows that climate change puts some 230,000 homes in the Ohio Valley at risk of flooding, far more than previous federal estimates had indicated.

The data show nearly 20% of homes in West Virginia, 5% in Kentucky and 2.3% in Ohio are at risk of seeing structural damage due to flooding. The risk is especially high in portions of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia — some of the very places hit by this week’s high waters. For example, three of the counties currently under emergency declarations — Breathitt, Johnson and Magoffin — are ones where the analysis shows at least one in every two residential properties at risk for flooding damages.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a statewide emergency on February 28, and has activated the National Guard. Tackett expects state assistance to arrive on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Tackett advises local residents to call their emergency departments and report downed power lines and trees, and to call for help as soon as they need it. His department is continuing to watch the rivers for further signs of danger, and is hopeful that water levels will crest soon. Emergency officials warn motorists not to attempt to drive on water-covered roadways. 

Jeff Young is managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism collaboration led by Louisville Public Media.

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