BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Politicians are pouring into flood damaged Eastern
Kentucky to tour the damage, but everyone wants to know when federal help will arrive.
Fifth District Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers visited Breathitt County and brought trucks full of supplies with the organization, Operation Unite. He said he expects federal aid to be immediate once the state submits the request.
And the damage is widespread, from individual homes and businesses to water districts, electric utilities and roadways.
Right now, the state is asking for everyone’s help reporting flood damage so it can put together that request.
“We’ll see to it that the White House approves that request whenever it’s perfected and
brought up there,” Rogers said. “In the mean time, we’ll keep pressure on the feds to do their thing.”
Jacob Banks was one of many people lined up Friday to get cases of water at Breathitt County High School.
“It’s heartwarming to see so much of the community come together,” Banks said.
Though his car was destroyed, Banks said he’s fortunate his home wasn’t flooded like many of his neighbors.
“To me, it’s been the worst flood we’ve had here in the 67 years I’ve lived here,” said Larry Strong, who was also in line.
Strong said his son is one of those flood victims, and his own home has severe damage. He said he’s thankful for drives like the one Friday and Rogers took the time to visit.
“We really appreciate the help,” Strong said. “We sure do. We need more help. We sure do.”
Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and her husband, Joe, an Eastern Kentucky native, also made the trip to Breathitt County.
They said they donated supplies to Operation Unite after trying to figure out ways to get involved.
“I experienced the flood of 1957,” Joe Craft said. “We lost everything. I remember as a child I lost all my puzzles. It was the worst thing in my life at that time in my life.”
Whether visiting or living there, most people who have seen the damage all say one thing is true: Eastern Kentucky is resilient, and will get through this together.
“It seems like we go through some tough times and stuff, but we always come back and we always make it,” Strong said.
Rogers visited Jackson, Booneville and Beattyville.
Over the last three days, Operation UNITE and members of Congressman Rogers’ staff have delivered pallets of water, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other items to Breathitt, Clay, Lee and Owsley counties.
Operation UNITE, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, also established a Flood Relief Fund accessible online at OperationUNITE.org.
To kick off the fund with it’s first major donation, Bill Deaton, a Booneville-native and Founder of Senture, provided a gift of $50,000 to be used for immediate and long-term flood-related needs in the region.
Craft, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, arrived with an abundance of supplies and new clothing for families who lost nearly everything.
“Kentucky is full of compassion and I’m so thankful to have such giving friends with me today who are donating much-needed supplies and money as part of our joint flood relief efforts. We all know that beaurocratic government assistance can never come quickly enough, so these private donations are critically important for individuals who barely escaped their flooded homes with the clothes they were wearing,” said Rogers. “As soon as Gov. Beshear requests a federal disaster declaration from the President, I will ask the entire Kentucky Congressional delegation to join me in supporting his request and urging expedited approval. We need to mobilize FEMA and other federal resources as soon as possible, but we cannot get that access until the declaration is approved.”
“My heart breaks for my hometown of Booneville and this entire region,” said Deaton. “The road ahead is long, challenging, and costly, but I hope this gift will help jump start relief efforts and infuse these communities with a little hope during these early, difficult days. I know we can’t fix every problem, but if we all pitch in and do our part, we can sure make a difference.”
“Kentuckians have proven to be strong, our communities are home to extraordinary solidarity and resilience. Kentuckians persevere, we endure, our spirit is strong,” said Craft. “What makes us strong is our core values that guide our lives. I am confident we will once again rise to this challenge. We should all be reminded of our common humanity, and that our lives are inter-connected and our survival depends on supporting one another.”
Emergency management officials and local leaders provided Congressman Rogers with a status briefing of early damage assessments and recovery efforts in Jackson, Beattyville and Booneville.
In Breathitt County, local leaders shared concerns about repairing a major water line collapse in the Jackson Water System that has disrupted water service across the county, as well as the need for long-term assistance with housing and infrastructure repairs.
“We suffered a historic flood in Breathitt County and we have a long road ahead, but it gives me great confidence to know how dedicated Congressman Rogers is to standing with us on the front-lines to help our community,” Jeff Noble, Breathitt County Judge Executive. “I’m grateful for the outpouring of support from across the state to help in our flood relief efforts.”
The water system in Owsley County was also disrupted by the flood, leaving the entire county with a boil water advisory. The flood destroyed homes, farm land, infrastructure and a local health clinic.
“As we work to remove debris and make critical repairs to our infrastructure, it’s a relief to see major donations pouring in to help our families and businesses with cleanup efforts as well,” Cale Turner, Owsley County Judge Executive. “We have a long road ahead, and we appreciate Congressman Rogers’ commitment to help us work with federal agencies as soon as they are mobilized.”
Downtown Beattyville was heavily damaged when the North Fork of the Kentucky River submerged the entire city with more than six feet of water, displacing at least 25 families, destroying businesses and government facilities.
“We deeply appreciate the support from Congressman Rogers from day one of this disaster. He and his staff jumped into action as soon as it was safe to begin bringing in supplies, and these additional donations will go a long way in helping our families in need as we await help from FEMA and other agencies,” Chuck Caudill, Lee County Judge Executive. “It will take all of our communities working together, with state, federal and private resources to fully recover from this historic flooding.”