Kentucky flood survivors say there was no time to flee the flood

LEBURN, Ky. – As the flood receded, stories of survival came in Tuesday from victims who were awakened by the warnings and quickly found themselves trapped in their homes by floating furniture blocking doorways.

They described the experience as surreal, recalling having to wade through waist-deep water to reach loved ones only to be swept away by the current, or watching trucks get swept away and trailers uprooted.

Many said everything they owned was taken or destroyed by the flood.

Teresa Reynolds sits exhausted as members of her community clean up debris from a flood-ravaged home in Ogden Hollar, Hindman, Ky., Saturday. Timothy D. Easley/AP
Image: A Knott County EMS truck picks up debris in flooded Troublesome Creek in downtown Hindman, Ky.  in 2022  August 2
A Knott County ambulance picks up debris in flooded Troublesome Creek in downtown Hindman, Ky., on Tuesday. Michael Swensen for NBC News.

“We only have the clothes we wear,” said John Whitaker, a retiree who has lived with his wife Susie in their now-demolished Hindman home for less than a year. “Everything else was at home. Everything is covered in dirt.”

Larry Miller, 62, a lifelong resident of Hindman, said he was reluctant to leave his home when the flood pounded on his door.

“My mom left me this house,” Miller said. “I just redid it from end to end. It destroyed my house and everything in it.

Miller and the Whitakers were among hundreds of Knott County residents who took shelter this week at the Leburn Sports Complex, a sports complex that has been converted into a shelter for storm survivors.

Image: Ronnie and Sue Combs pray at the Knott County Sports Complex in 2022.  August 2
Flood survivors Ronnie and Sue Combs pray with a member of the Billy Graham Emergency Response Team at the Knott County Sports Complex on Tuesday. Michael Swensen for NBC News.
Image: 2022  August 2  a man arranges coats at the donation table at the Knott County Sports Complex.
A man organizes coats on a donation table at the Knott County Sports Complex in Leburn, Ky., Tuesday.Michael Swensen for NBC News

Extraordinary rain, historic floods

The worst flooding occurred overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning historical storm in eastern Kentucky, which occurred while most people were asleep, and which flooded the heralds so quickly that they cut off most avenues of escape.

Dustin Jordan, the National Weather Service’s science and operations officer in Kentucky, said that before the storm, his agency “issued a number of flash flood warnings and also upgraded them to catastrophic, which is about the highest level you can go.” is basically like a flash flood.

Some areas received 14 to 16 inches of rain over five days last week, he said.

“You’re talking about unprecedented rainfall,” Jordan said. “The biggest takeaway from this is that flash flooding from overnight rainfall is very dangerous.” It is very difficult for people to get to a safe place at night. So that’s part of it. A lot of people sleep and then have to leave very, very quickly.

William Haneberg, director of the Kentucky Geological Survey, said the rains came so quickly there was really no time to escape, even if they heeded the weather service’s warnings.

“It’s mountainous terrain and the valleys are very narrow,” he said. “Many of the affected areas are very remote. It can take an hour to get through the winding mountain roads. In many remote areas, there may be only one way out. So if you wait too long, bridges can collapse.” be washed away

People are also prone to storm warnings, and generational ties to the land of Appalachia make some reluctant to leave, even if they know they live in a flood-prone area, Haneberg said.

“People are tied to that land because maybe their great-grandparents built a house or something,” he said. “So it’s a huge cultural problem to say, ‘Okay, just move.’

Image: 2022  August 2  uncle Solomon Everridge, who in 1902  donated land for the Hindman Settlement School, the painting is covered in dirt.
On Tuesday, uncle Solomon Everridge, who in 1902 donated land to the Hindman Settlement School, dirt tracks are visible in the picture. Michael Swensen for NBC News.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that 37 flooding deaths were confirmed and hundreds more were still unaccounted for across five counties. Seventeen deaths were reported in Knott County, and four of the dead were children from the same family, he said.

A scramble to escape to higher ground

Whitaker said he and his wife thought they were also missing when their house suddenly began to fill with water.

“There was enough water to float everything in the room,” he said. – Everything floated until the water receded. The refrigerator was overturned. The two beds floated so hard into the ceiling that it tore at the ceiling.

Mary Arlin Gibson, who lives in Pine Top with her husband, said she was awakened by a “gurgling” sound coming from the bathroom and went to investigate.

“All of a sudden, water started coming out of the vents, then it was waist-deep,” she said. “We were stuck in the bedroom because the furniture started floating. We couldn’t open the door or anything.”

Gibson said they escaped through a bedroom window and climbed a hill, where their neighbor had driven his truck out during the storm. She said the three stayed there for six hours before it was safe to land.

Image: Mary and Arlin Gibson's home in Pine Top, Ky., in 2022.  August 2
Mary and Arlin Gibson’s home in Pine Top, Ky.Michael Swensen for NBC News.

Cathy Jones, who lives in Stanford Branch with her wife, Jennifer Stamper, said that around 2 a.m. Thursday, was talking on the night phone with his brother-in-law, who lives nearby, as the rain pelted the sheets.

Jones said they began to panic when her brother-in-law told her he saw a truck “swim by his mom’s house and the trailer hit a tree in their yard.” Then they lost power and the phone went dead.

At dawn, she said, their house was surrounded by swirling water, but Stamper grabbed his stick and dared to reach his mother.

“The water was waist-deep,” said Jones, who watched as her wife climbed to higher ground despite the strong current. “By a miracle she crossed over and shouted, ‘You’re coming too!’ I said, “No, I don’t want to die!”

Jones said she heard the sounds of trees breaking.

“I saw her come back about half an hour later,” Jones said of his wife. “She said, ‘I couldn’t handle it.’

Fortunately, the family was later reunited with a shelter, she said.

Image: Cathy Jones at the Knott County Sports Complex in 2022.  August 2
Cathy Jones Tuesday at the Knott County Sports Complex. Michael Swensen for NBC News.

For three nights, Knott County Coroner Corey Watson watched over the dead at the funeral home he runs in Hindman, cut off from much of the world by flash flooding in his county.

With no electricity or running water, Watson relied on generators donated by friends to keep the lights on at Nelson-Frazier Funeral Home.

“It’s disturbing that so many people die in such a traumatic way,” Watson said. “Our county was hit pretty hard by the water, but we’re recovering. We stand together.”

Image: Aerial view of eastern Kentucky in 2022.  July 30
Aerial view of eastern Kentucky Saturday.Kentucky National Guard/via AFP – Getty Images
Picture: 2022  July 30  local Mennonite community volunteers clear flood-damaged property from a home in Ogden Hollar, Hindman, Ky.
Local Mennonite community volunteers clean up flood-damaged property from a home in Ogden Hollar, Hindman, Ky., on Saturday.Timothy D. Easley/AP

Watson said the area is no stranger to flash floods, but this was nothing like his.

“We usually have a few, one or two floods a year, maybe,” he said. “The damage is minimal, nothing bad. I am 33 years old and this is the most rain and damage I have ever seen in a natural disaster.

Watson said he ended up at the funeral home after having to be rescued from his home, which is in a remote corner of the county. He said he lost power and cell service and had “no idea” he was in danger until he arrived at the funeral home.

“I didn’t do it until it was over,” he said. “People were running here to the funeral home.”

Minyvonne Burke reported from Kentucky, Melissa Chan from New York and Corky Siemaszko from New Jersey.

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