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Eastern Kentucky flood victims given shelter in three Wolfe County schools

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Stu Johnson
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Last Wednesday night might seem like a lifetime ago for many residents across eastern Kentucky. That’s when the rains really picked up, causing disastrous flooding into Thursday morning. It may still be too soon for many emotionally drained families to even think about recovery.

Three school buildings in Wolfe County offered a dry spot for housing and eating. Just before noontime Saturday, several people gathered outside the high school, many to take a smoke.

77-year-old Willie Bush of Lost Creek in Breathitt County is experiencing his sixth flood since the mid-1950s.

“57-84-01-09-20-and 22. I’ve seen kids washed down---57 I’ve seen kids washed down the creek, ya know,” said Bush.

In this flood event, four children in Knott County perished in floodwaters.

There’s no question in Bush’s mind, the flood of 2022 is historic.

“There’s a bridge right behind my house. Last year was supposed to be the worst year…or 2020 was supposed to be the worst year. It got three feet of the bridge. This year it got five feet over the bridge. That was eight foot higher,” said Bush.

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Stu Johnson
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Left to Right-Lost Creed Resident Willie Bush and Wolfe County School Administrator Robert Creech

Bush said the frame of that house and roof are still there, but everything else is gone. Also casualties, three houses and five cars including his daughter’s place. The Breathitt county man noted they were rescued by boat. With the geographic makeup of his Lost Creek community, Bush isn’t sure additional infrastructure such as a flood wall would solve flooding issues.

To say a flood of this magnitude impacts about every activity imaginable would be an understatement. Sheila Smith came to the Campton school from Breathitt County. The immense rainfall interrupted her family’s remembrance of her uncle.

“We had funeral services for him Wednesday and we’d supposed to bury him Thursday and I live in Wolverine in Jackson…and we can’t..the casket and hearse..they can’t get down Wolverine cause of the water,” said Smith.

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Stu Johnson
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Wolverine Resident Sheila Smith

Smith said she has eight family members affected by the flooding.

Several people sheltered at the school campus came when the Haven House homeless facility in Jackson became threatened. Henry Miller, a resident there, said they were moved twice as the rains came down. Miller added it’s a difficult time, but it’s not insurmountable.

“Guess the water crested now. Everything going to have to be cleaned up and all of our stuff is there and I hope things are alright, but if not, people are donating and people are helping us. We’ll climb back because these communities in eastern Kentucky, we all love each other,” said Miller.

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Stu Johnson
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Far left-Henry Miller with two fellow residents of Haven Place

The three Wolfe County schools house three different groups of people. School Administrator Robert Creech says adults were in the high school and nursing home residents were being cared for in the middle school. And Saturday the third school served another need.

“The Red Cross you can’t have pets. If you evacuate with your pet, you can’t stay with the Red Cross, so we opened our elementary school up for that and we’ve got probably 40 some people up there right now,” said Creech.

All told, Creech said there were probably more than 150 in all three schools. Creech’s 19 year old daughter Camey was helping out. She said she knew a lot of friends in Breahitt County, adding most of them didn’t have anything left.

Just down the hill from the high school shelter, a church group set up a tent, offering food and drinks.

“That family is from Beattyville. Those folks are from Powell County and we’re from Wolfe County. We just live about a mile from here and the floods are about, what, 20 miles up the road? Start about 20 miles up the road.”

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Stu Johnson
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Tent Hosted by the Richmond House of Prayer

Melissa Shackleford was born and raised in Wolfe County but has spent the last 20 years in Richmond. It’s her church in Madison County that set up the table on Saturday.

“We do a haunted house every year for donations and for charities. We decided to come out today, we wanted to give back to our community. Offer the families, workers, volunteers..hotdogs, chips, waters..anything that we can do to help,” said Shackleford

Bob Sparks lives in Wolfe County and said he hasn’t experienced flooding, but he knows many who have lost everything. He had a quick response to the question of what’s the secret to coming back from this type of disaster.

“Work and hope, that’s all there are….and lots of prayer,” said Sparks.

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Stu Johnson
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Jackson NOAA Meteorologist Dustin Jordan

Dustin Jordan with the Jackson National Weather Service says he and other meteorologists were trapped at their office due to high waters for more than a day. He said it’s not a first. Ice storms have also meant bedding down at the NOAA facility. Jordan said this rain event goes down as historic, breaking the flood of record in Jackson by more than four feet.

Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 30 years.
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