Some Appalachian residents begin cleanup after deadly floods – Times News Online


PRESTONBURG, Ky. — Some Appalachian residents returned to flood-ravaged homes and communities on Saturday to shovel mud and debris and salvage what they could, while Kentucky’s governor said operations Search and rescue efforts were underway in the area submerged by torrential rains days earlier which caused deadly flash floods.

Rescue teams continued the struggle to get into the hardest hit areas, some of the poorest in America. Dozens of deaths have been confirmed and the number is expected to rise.

In the small community of Wayland, Phillip Michael Caudill was working on Saturday cleaning up debris and salvaging what he could from the home he shares with his wife and three children. The waters had receded from the house but left a mess with questions about what he and his family would do next.

“We just hope we can get some help,” said Caudill, who is staying with her family at Jenny Wiley State Park in a free room, for now.

Caudill, a firefighter from the nearby community of Garrett, went out in rescue around 1 a.m. Thursday but had to ask to leave around 3 a.m. so he could return home, where the waters were rising rapidly.

“That’s what made it so difficult for me,” he said. “I’m here, sitting there, watching my house sink into the water and you have people crying out for help. And I couldn’t help it,” because he was taking care of his own family.

The water was up to his knees when he got home and he had to ford the yard and carry two of his children to the car. He could barely close the door of his SUV as they drove off.

In Garrett on Saturday, flood-soaked sofas, tables and pillows were piled in yards along the foothills of the mountainous region as people worked to clear debris and shovel mud from walkways and roads under a sky now blue.

Hubert Thomas, 60, and his nephew Harvey, 37, fled to Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonburg after floodwaters destroyed their home in Pine Top late Wednesday night. The two were able to save their dog, CJ, but fear the damage to the home is beyond repair. Hubert Thomas, a retired coal miner, said all of his savings had been invested in his home.

“I have nothing now,” he said.

Harvey Thomas, a paramedic, said he fell asleep to the sound of light rain and his uncle wasted no time waking him up to warn him that the water was getting dangerously close to the house.

“It was going inside and it was only getting worse,” he said, “like there was, at one point, we looked at the front door and mine and his cars were playing bumper cars, like bumper boats in the middle of our front yard.”

As for what’s next, Harvey Thomas said he didn’t know, but was grateful to be alive.

“Mountaineers are strong,” he said. “And like I said, it won’t be tomorrow, probably not next month, but I think everyone will be fine. It will just be a long process.

At least 25 people died – including four children – in the floods, the Kentucky governor said Saturday.

“We continue to pray for the families who have suffered unfathomable loss,” Governor Andy Beshear said. “Some have lost almost everyone in their household.”

Beshear said the number would likely increase significantly and it could take weeks to find all the victims of the record flash floods. Crews performed more than 1,200 rescues from helicopters and boats, the governor said.

“I fear we will find bodies in the coming weeks,” Beshear said during a midday briefing.

The rain stopped early Friday after parts of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches (20-27 centimeters) in 48 hours. But some waterways were not expected to peak until Saturday. About 18,000 Kentucky utility customers were left without power Saturday, poweroutage.us reported.

It’s the latest in a series of catastrophic deluges that have hit parts of the United States this summer, including St. Louis earlier this week and again on Friday. Scientists warn that climate change is making weather disasters more frequent.

As rains battered Appalachia this week, water rushed down hills and into valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and creeks flowing through small towns. The torrent engulfed homes and businesses and ransacked vehicles. Landslides have trapped some people on steep slopes.

President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen counties in Kentucky.

The flooding extended west to Virginia and south to West Virginia.

Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency for six West Virginia counties where flooding has downed trees, knocked out power and blocked roads. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration, allowing officials to mobilize resources in the state’s flooded southwest.

The deluge came two days after record rains around St. Louis dropped more than 31 centimeters and killed at least two people. Last month, heavy snowfall rains in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park triggered historic flooding and the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. In both cases, the rain floods far exceeded forecasters’ forecasts.

Extreme rain events have become more frequent as climate change bakes the planet and alters weather patterns, say scientists. This is a growing challenge for disaster managers, as the models used to predict storm impacts are partly based on past events and cannot keep up with flash floods and increasingly devastating heat waves like those that have recently hit the Pacific Northwest and southern Plains.

“It’s a battle of extremes unfolding right now in the United States,” said Jason Furtado, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma. “These are things we expect because of climate change. … A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and that means you can produce more heavy rain.

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AP journalist Patrick Orsagos contributed to this report.

Members of the local Mennonite community remove mud-filled debris from homes following flooding at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

A volunteer from the local Mennonite community of Ogden Hollar helps clear mud and debris from flood-ravaged homes in Hineman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community carry bins full of debris from flooded homes for disposal at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Volunteers from a local Mennonite community help clean up mud and debris after flooding at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Muddy debris lies on the side of the road where it is piled for disposal at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Phillip Michael Caudill, holds his 4-year-old son, Connor, outside of their temporary bedroom at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. The state park serves as a shelter for flood victims. Caudill and his family had to flee their home in Wayland, Kentucky early Thursday morning as floodwaters rushed in when heavy rains hit eastern Kentucky. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

Phillip Michael Caudill posts a drone photo of his flooded home outside his temporary bedroom at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. The state park serves as a shelter for victims floods. Caudill and his family had to flee their home in Wayland, Kentucky early Thursday morning as floodwaters rushed in when heavy rains hit eastern Kentucky. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

Bonnie Combs, right, hugs her 10-year-old granddaughter, Adelynn Bowling, watches her property covered by the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky., Thursday, July 28, 2022. Flash flooding and landslides have been reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

A Perry County school bus is destroyed after being caught in floodwaters from Lost Creek in Ned, Ky., Friday, July 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Men ride in a boat along the flooded Wolverine Road in Breathitt County, Ky. Thursday, July 28, 2022. Heavy rains caused flash flooding and landslides as storms batter parts from central Appalachia. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said it was one of the worst floods in state history. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

Hindman, Ky. Mayor Tracy Neice uses a backhoe to clear road debris in downtown Hindman, Ky., Friday, July 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Patricia Colombo explains how she and her fiancé took turns watching the water pipe overnight near her home in Jackson, Ky., Friday, July 29, 2022. Colombo had to be rescued from her car (not the one pictured) when she stalled in high water earlier in the day on Thursday as she tried to drive home during heavy rain. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

A woman looks at her phone after carrying supplies home in Jackson, Ky., Friday, July 29, 2022. Flooding in the area has surrounded many homes, forcing people to cross water to enter. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community clean up flood-damaged property from a home at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community remove debris from flood-damaged properties at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community clean up flood-damaged property from a home at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Teresa Reynolds sits exhausted as members of her community clear debris from their flood-ravaged homes at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community clean up flood-damaged property from a home at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

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