Dozens of bridges damaged in record flooding in Kentucky
(TNS) – For the past few days, Jennifer Myers and William Duff have been using her dad’s van to get to work at a nursing home, but he needs it soon to get to his own job, and they’re not not sure what they will do next.
They have a car, a sharp black Dodge Challenger, in their house on a hill overlooking Grapevine Creek in Perry County.
The problem is that they don’t have a bridge to cross it.
The severe flash flooding that hit several eastern Kentucky counties on July 28 washed away soil under one end of the one-lane structure, causing it to collapse.
County crews have built wooden walkways over the gaps at either end of the bridge so residents can walk from their homes to the road, but it’s unclear when they’ll be able to get their cars out.
“It made it difficult,” Myers said.
The flood that killed at least 37 people also wreaked havoc on electrical service, water lines, roads and bridges.
Crews were able to restore power to more than half of the people who lost power, but repairing all the bridges damaged or destroyed by the floods will be expensive and take longer.
So far, after the floods, the focus has been on finding missing people and providing emergency food and shelter to people whose homes have been destroyed.
However, officials in the counties hardest hit by flooding said dozens of bridges were damaged or destroyed.
Perry County Executive Judge Scott Alexander said about 50 bridges were washed out or damaged. Knott County Executive Judge Jeff Dobson put the number between 60 and 70 county bridges and numerous other private bridges.
Breathitt County Executive Judge Jeff Noble said dozens of bridges and culverts that people use to cross streams to their homes have been destroyed or damaged.
“We won’t be done in a year” fixing them all, Noble said.
Many bridges only serve one or two houses, but damage to larger ones and roads will also make it difficult to transport students to school.
The topography of eastern Kentucky helps explain the damage. In many places the steep hills form a V, with a stream at the bottom and a narrow strip of flat land on either side for the road and houses.
Places to build are limited, said Peter Youmans, pastor of Davidson Baptist Church in Perry County’s Grapevine community.
The church and its house are close to the stream. Both were damaged in last week’s flood, but there was little choice about where to build them, Youmans said.
“Either you live by a stream or you live on top of a mountain,” he said.
The topography also means floodwaters can boil quickly in narrow valleys and hollows, turning normally small streams into destructive torrents.
The flood undermined one end of the main church bridge. It was blocked on Monday waiting for someone to check if it is still structurally sound.
“We’re just not going to take any chances.” Youmans said.
The church won’t be usable for a while anyway. The members emptied it, using chainsaws to cut off the waterlogged benches because they were too heavy to carry whole.
Perry County emergency manager Jerry Wayne Stacy said National Guard helicopter crews dropped water over the weekend to people who couldn’t get out because of damaged bridges, and planned to start dropping off packaged meals the military uses — called MREs — on Monday.
Damaged bridges disrupted many schedules.
Linda Keith, who lives on a hill overlooking Troublesome Creek near the Knott-Perry County line, said she hasn’t been able to get to her job as a bank teller in Hazard since the flooding.
Floodwaters undermined one end of the bridge leading to his house, leaving a gap several feet wide between the end of the sidewalk and the lane leading to his house.
“We’re trapped,” Keith said Monday.
Keith said she had lived there for 33 years and the water had never been higher.
Keith said his boss at the bank was very understanding and his son Robert Keith, Hazard’s fire chief, brought water and supplies. She and her husband, Michael, use a small cart to pull supplies up the steep driveway.
Being abandoned isn’t ideal, but Keith quickly noticed that their home hadn’t been damaged and they hadn’t lost any loved ones, unlike many nearby families.
“We are much better off than the others,” she said.
A woman searching for her missing father asked Keith if she could comb through the creek bank below his house. The man was later found dead.
Keith’s neighbor James Estep is an equipment operator at an open cast coal mine and was at work when the flood hit. The bridge was out of service when he got home.
It turned out to be luck. He was able to leave his Jeep at the end of the roadside bridge and can walk there through a pile of rocks at the damaged end of the structure, so he can still get to work.
Still, there are concerns about what would happen if her stepmother, who lives next door and wears a pacemaker, had a medical emergency.
“It would be hard to get her across there,” he said of the gap between the driveway and the end of the bridge.
The flood toppled a large bridge leading to the Gospel Light Baptist Youth Center.
Republican State Rep. Chris Fugate, pastor of Gospel Light Baptist Church in Hazard, which bought the center a year ago, said the church serves as a shelter and feeding site for the displaced people, so he didn’t have time to go and see. at the bridge, which is in a community several miles outside of town.
He said the church often used the center for youth activities.
Fugate said he called Alexander, the executive judge, on the night of the flood to offer the youth center as a shelter, only to learn shortly after that the bridge leading to it had collapsed.
“It was a big lick for us” to lose access to it, he said.
The flood washed away soil at one end of the bridge leading to Paul Johnson’s home in Chavies, County Perry, and also demolished his daughter’s mobile home, which stood in front of her house by the creek.
His house is high up and the water has not entered it.
Johnson, 71, said his wife and grandson left the night of the storm before high water brought down the bridge, but he has been home ever since.
He had food and water, and volunteers brought food too, carrying it over the wooden walkway a county work crew built across the 10-foot gap between his deck and his court.
His water service was not restored, so he collected rainwater and groundwater to flush his toilets.
Johnson, retired from a job at an open-pit coal mine, said he will likely have to demolish his garage.
However, he cannot run a piece of heavy equipment over the failing bridge to do the job, and said there is no way of knowing when the bridge will be repaired given the extensive damage throughout the area.
But he took the situation head-on.
“There’s really nothing we can do,” he said. “Accept it and do the best you can with what you have. Thank God we are alive.
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