Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 12, 2011

Communities begin cleaning up after storm

ASHLAND — Hundreds of area residents were left to clean up and dry out Wednesday, the day after a series of intense and violent storms wreaked havoc on northeastern Kentucky and the Tri-State.

Dozens of homes and businesses remained without electricity, as power crews scrambled to repair massive damage caused by fallen trees and limbs.

The storms, said by many to be among the fiercest spring severe-weather events the region has experienced in recent memory, brought torrential rains that caused widespread flooding, vivid lightning, grape-sized hail and powerful wind gusts.

Ashland bore brunt

The city of Ashland appears to have been the area hardest hit by the storms. During the 24-hour period from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, the Ashland Water Plant recorded total rainfall of 4 inches, said Tim Axford, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Charleston forecast office.

By comparison, South Point received 3.25 inches, Louisa got 1.9 inches and Huntington received 2.58 inches, Axford said.

While he said he had no idea if Ashland’s 4-inch rainfall was a record, Axford said it was one of the highest totals he could ever recall seeing.

One of the reasons the storms produced so much rain, along with hail, was that they were extremely “tall,” meaning they went high up into the atmosphere, Axford said. Also, they were extremely slow-moving, which meant they dumped large amounts of rainfall on concentrated areas, as opposed to spreading it over a wider path.

There were reports of a funnel cloud sighting and tornado touchdown in the Cannonsburg area, but Axford said the weather service hadn’t been able to confirm those. Also, the weather service sent a survey team to Louisa to investigate a possible twister touchdown there, he said.

Homes damaged

Brent Webster, director of the Ashland Boyd County Catlettsburg Emergency Management Agency, said more than 100 homes in the county were damaged by storms on Tuesday.

Webster said EMA workers have seen homes with more than three feet of water in them, homes with flooded basements and homes with roofs blown off as well as road damage and potential problems with some bridges.

Westwood, Summit and Ashland were the areas worst-hit by the storm, he said.

Local damage assesment teams are inspecting property damage and Webster has been in touch with the state Emergency Operation Center.

The EMA is also working with the Red Cross to make sure families in need of emergency shelter have a place to stay, he said.

On Wednesday, Webster said the EMA was working with about five families in need of shelter, but most people with home damage had been able to find places to stay.

He said he thinks the area has a good chance of getting an individual assistance declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meaning individuals can get assistance from FEMA for storm damage. It’s also likely FEMA will provide assistance for publicly owned property, such as roadways.

The area may also get assistance from the Small Business Administration, Webster said.

However, he said there’s no guarantee of assistance at this point.

“It’ll take some time,” he said.

Webster said flooding on Tuesday was the worst he remembered seeing in Ashland.

Boyd Judge-Executive William “Bud” Stevens said county road crews were in the process of trouble-shooting and cleaning up after the storm.

“It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated,” Stevens said of damage after the storms.

Two culverts on Callahan Ridge washed out during the storm and many more culverts need to be cleaned out, he said. There were also some road slips.

Stevens said the large amount of flooding was due to how quickly rain came down, and water has now mostly gone down.

“Right now it’s just a cleanup process,” he said.

He said he expects most of the cleanup to be completed within a week to 10 days.

Hatchery Road

hit hard

The intermingled aromas of gasoline, human waste and flood debris filled the air along Hatchery Road as people with too much experience at cleaning up after floods once again began picking up the mess.

“There is mud and gasoline in the garage and basement. I don’t know where the gas came from,” said Allen Hewitt, whose home has been flooded “three or four times” during the seven years he’s lived on Hatchery Road with his wife, Colleen. Pointing toward his neighbors’ homes, he said their cleanup work is relatively minimal. “Down there they got it bad,” he said.

A few doors down, where the land dips to a point closer to the seemingly calm and slow-flowing creek that runs alongside Hatchery Road, Alysia Armstrong took a break while her mom and dad, Charlene and Bobby Helms, made their pile of soaked belongings and used a large squeegee to clear water from his bottom floor garage area.

Armstrong said the home gets flooded “all the time, every time it rains.” The latest flash flood “came out of nowhere,” she said, recalling the adventure of having her family assisted from the home by firefighters following a rope across the then-raging creek.

The force of the water was so strong at one point, Armstrong said a single misplaced step would have resulted in her washing downstream. Watching her 2-year-old-niece cross the creek in the arms of a firefighter, who had a slight stumble while battling the current, was nearly heart-stopping, she said.

Relying on lessons learned from numerous floods during their 13 to 14 years along Hatchery Road, Bobby Helms said the family has tackled its home with a combination of water hose, squeegee, brushes and bleach. Looking at the gentle creek between their home and the road, Helms said he doesn’t know the waterway’s proper title, “but I think it’s The Devil.”

“It gets hit quite a bit and this part of the year is the worst part of the year,” he said, of the history of flooding along Hatchery Road and mentioning FEMA plans to buy his home and others along the flood-prone area.

Homeowners bear the full burden of cleaning up what remains after a flood incident, he said, later adding neighbors with the same problems they have are typically the only people they can turn to for assistance.

“The worst part is we can’t really get any help. The Southern Baptist relief group came out last year and they were great, but they were the only people that has ever helped us,” Helms said.

Thomas and Rhonda Hall have lived four years (“Too long,” she said) on Hatchery Road, with floods “every time it rains since we’ve been here,” or approximately seven times. With a huge pile of carpet pulled from their home along with an entire living room of furniture and a collection of more than 100 valuable porcelain dolls lying in their pile of ruins, Mrs. Hall said she was nearly at the end of her ability to tolerate and carry on.

“You can go in there if you want to. It smells like raw sewage, because it is raw sewage. That is disgusting. We can’t salvage anything ... and we just had it redone,” she said. “I wanted to lay down and cry, but what do you do? I just want to get out of here.”

 Mrs. Hall said she is also bothered by the high number of people who seem to be driving by purely to look at the flood damage.

“We get a lot of drive-by traffic. We’re like a freak show. It’s like nobody’s ever seen rain before,” she said.

Thomas Hall said he’s quite glad he has an outstanding flood insurance policy, watching a team from AARA Fire & Water Restoration tackle the worst of their damages.

At each home, residents are quick to repeat the assurances they’ve been given over a period of years promising FEMA will buy 13 homes in the constantly flood-ravaged section of Hatchery Road, and expressing their frustration that such action remains an unfulfilled promise.

In Greenup County, Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter declared a state of emergency because of the widespread damage caused by the storms. According to the declaration, the damage included mud and rock slides, street and bridge blockages, culvert washouts, fallen trees and residents being forced from their homes by flooding.

The emergency declaration allows the county to bypass state bidding laws in order to have certain types of work performed.

The southern portions of Greenup County — Russell, Flatwoods and Raceland — were hit hardest by the storms, said Buford Hurley II, the county’s e-911 director.

Diederich Boulevard in Russell was closed because of flooding and didn’t reopen until late Wednesday afternoon. Also, a number of businesses and apartments along Diederich were flooded, Hurley said.

Emergency crews had to use a boat to rescue a truck driver whose 18-wheeler went off the road and into a creek on Ky. 1 at Horn Hollow, Hurley said. The driver was standing on top of his rig when help arrived, he said.

Numerous other water rescues took place in the county, including a woman from a dance studio on Diederich, Hurley said.

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