Eastern Kentucky residents clean up and count blessings as floodwaters recede

Andy Morell and his family watch layers of mud pour down the gutter as a man cleans up the residue left on their street in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

“Physically, we are exhausted. Emotionally exhausted. But you know, we’re happy to be alive,” he said.

On Thursday morning, the North Fork of the Kentucky River overflowed its banks and engulfed most of the city.

It seems like everyone in the population 2200 city a been affected, Morrell said.

“We were rescuing people, some of the old people live here and some of the young babies and you know everyone lost lots and lots of homes and lots of equipment,” he said.

As the water receded, it left a mixture of stinky mud and thrown furniture, and a slowly rising grief.

First responders struggled to access remote areas of the region as swollen streams and rivers continued to rise more than a day after the initial flooding.

On Saturday afternoon, at least two people in Letcher County were confirmed dead from flooding. In eastern Kentucky, 25 people died, including four children. Officials say they expect the total to rise as the waters recede and the full extent of the disaster can be cataloged.

In a slice of Whitesburg directly by the river, known as the Maryland Avenue neighborhood, Pam Dawn cleans her house and salvages what she can.

“Fortunately, we have the power right now. They cut off your water though,” she said.

Thousands of people are still without electricity, water and internet across the region. But Dawn is just grateful to be here. She said the night the rain fell was heartbreaking.

“I had been up all night. I know the water was on the rise, watching for warnings and all that stuff,” she said. “And I thought, okay, everyone here told me he never got on the courses. It came so fast. It was unreal. And so everyone here was trying to get out .

Dawn lost five of her six cats in the flood. The last one jumps around her shoulders and snuggles up to her hands.

“It was my uncle’s house when I was a little girl, then we bought it and it will never be the same again,” Dawn said.

Pam Dawn in Whitesburg, Kentucky

Down the road, past the bridge to the freeway, neighbors help each other clean up and assess the damage. Faye Weaver stands outside the house she has lived in for 21 years.

“We don’t have flood insurance. I took out flood insurance six months ago,” she said.

She calms down, repeating, like a mantra:

“My husband could have been killed. It’s just a house,” she said.

Faye Weaver in Whitesburg, Kentucky

The Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at Letcher County Central High School. Volunteers and staff say they are overwhelmed with all that remains to be done.

Laura Cook is with Mountain Comprehensive Healthcare, working to connect people with food, water and a warm place to sleep.

“People are coming in, covered in mud, their cars are covered in mud, and we’re just trying to help them as best we can,” Cook said.

Cook said that right now the relief effort is mostly powered by volunteers.

“Hopefully later on we will see bigger disaster relief teams come to help us. None of these big teams have arrived here yet,” she said.

A shelter set up at Letcher County High School

Organizers are looking for donations of water, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food, and volunteers are needed.

Recovery will take months or more. And more rain is forecast for the days to come.

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