Kentucky floods force sheriff’s sorrow to wait while duty calls

Mid-South

(NewsNation) — For Perry County, Kentucky Sheriff Joe Engle, it has been hard to see people in his community lose their entire livelihoods in the midst of devastating floods ravaging the state.

“We had a police officer, he just paid his house off the day before, and he lost that house due to the flood,” Engle said. “You see him standing next to the road with nothing, losing everything.”

Engle’s own family was hit by tragedy as well: He lost his great aunt when she drowned in the floodwaters. She was the first confirmed death from this weather event, the sheriff said.

“She was 82 years old and lived her entire life to lose it to something like that,” Engle said. “It’s sad.”

Storms in parts of central Appalachia left at least 15 people dead in Kentucky, and several more missing. A Thursday storm sent water gushing from hillsides, and surging out streambeds, wiping out homes, businesses and roads. Rescue crews are still working feverishly to reach people trapped by floodwater.

It’s all caused a problem that’s far bigger than what Perry County can handle on its own.

“We’ve got deputies that still cannot leave their house. When this happened, one of the things was faced with was the entire road systems were washed away. So we still have deputies that are stuck in communities that can’t get out and help people,” Engle said. Assistance has started to pour in, though, from neighboring communities, he added.

Akeyla Johnson lives in Perry County, where the Kentucky River runs directly behind her house, with her husband and two kids.

While the water did get into Johnson’s yard Thursday night, it did not touch her home, and the river has now crested.

Johnson’s family and friends have run up into the hills as far as they could go. Her in-laws can’t get out, however, because of a downed pole. Now, they have no power and no water.

Homes and structures are flooded near Quicksand, Ky., Thursday, July 28, 2022. Heavy rains have caused flash flooding and mudslides as storms pound parts of central Appalachia. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says it’s some of the worst flooding in state history. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

“It’s bad around here,” she said.

At this point, emergency workers are still trying to figure out exactly what everyone needs. Because so many people lost everything in minutes, Engle said basic necessities such as clothing, underwear, socks, generators or baby formula are needed the most.

Chris Hall of Hazard, which is in Perry County, says he has slept in his car since the floods.

“Photos and videos has no justice if you see these things firsthand,” Hall said on “NewsNation Prime” Friday. “It’s your neighbors; you’ve been in the house. They’re your friends. You grew up in the area. You know the entire area and there’s nothing but total devastation.”

Those in need of shelter can find a list of churches offering it on the Perry County Kentucky Fiscal Court’s Facebook post. Kentucky’s government set up a  fund to help those in need, and Attorney General Daniel Cameron has an online reporting portal and hotline, 502-696-5485 and ag.ky.gov/pricegouging.

The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and eKY Mutual Aid, are accepting donations as well.

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