(Via press release from the LRC)
Lawmakers from Eastern Kentucky and other areas of the state expressed heartfelt concern Tuesday for those adversely affected by July’s torrential flooding.
State officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation to provide an update on the recovery efforts, and several legislators took turns describing the extreme devastation.
Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson (D-Lexington) said she’s from Knott County and has relatives who still reside there.
“These photos cannot prepare you for what you see. And when you drive up a holler and see houses that are just gone. They’re just gone,” she said. “It’s so hard, and it’s so hard not to be there every day. It’s hard to be here and still do what I need to do and not be there. I’ve been there as much as I possibly could.”
The people in affected areas need help with manual labor because some situations remain dire, Stevenson added. “There are still people sitting in houses caked in mud. There are people living in tents and people need help.”
Sen. Johnnie Turner (R-Harlan) said he went through a bad flood in 1957, but the recent flooding was truly traumatic. He and people from “everywhere” are working in the damaged areas.
“Three of the counties were my counties, and I’ve been hands-on with helping deliver from the helicopter to my truck – four days in a row hauling gallons of water,” he said.
Turner reported that devastation is far and wide.
“It’s just so terrible. Pictures are just a minute part of what you see when you drive there, and every house that I picked up truckload after truckload have set everything outside, and they have nothing. I mean they have nothing,” he said.
Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty (D-Martin) was among several who said she’s grateful for assistance in the recovery.
“As many of you know, I represent Eastern Kentucky. I represent Floyd and Pike counties, and I live in District 12. So I understand the transportation department, how hard they’ve been working. I don’t know where to begin in saying thank you,” she said.
Travel trailers and lodging at state parks are being used to house those affected by flooding, and Tackett Laferty said it’s an immense undertaking.
“Jenny Wiley State Park is housing, lodging, in the hotel, 177 people in our community. I didn’t even realize our resort park held that many people,” she said.
Rep. Sal Santoro (R-Union) asked the transportation cabinet officials about water and electrical service.
Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said most electricity has been restored, but water is going to be a different story. The early priority was getting roads passable so utility personnel could get to areas to fix them. He said water has been restored near plants, but repair is more challenging in areas far from plants.
Rep. Tom Smith (R-Corbin) asked if similar rainfall happened in other parts of the state would it be as cataclysmic.
Gray said he was not sure, but damage could certainly happen in any part of the state.
“Damage to infrastructure is enormous,” he said.
Examining the damage and working on inventory is still ongoing, Gray said, and officials are seeking to determine the cost of rebuilding.
“You really can’t find the right adjectives to describe it. I think it would have been destructive anywhere, but I suspect it is even at a higher level here. And it’s going to be a time to get the rebuild done,” he said.
Committee Co-chair Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) said he saw many foundations that no longer have houses on top.
“I will say this – seeing is believing. I’ve seen floods before, but driving that day, it was like a flood and a tornado combined,” he said.
Although a special legislative session has yet to be officially announced, Higdon said one may be on the way soon.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Eastern Kentucky that are suffering, and we will have a special session I understand here shortly. Maybe we could be of additional help, and you’ll see the commitment from the General Assembly to help,” he said.