Johnson County floods, local agencies working toward relief

Waters from the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River reached the road at the Euclid Avenue underpass, flooding the garage floor of nearby apartments and the Exxon gas station.

Excessive rainfall throughout last week and into the weekend led to floods and high waters across Johnson County Saturday evening, with waters remaining high well into Sunday, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

The high water and rainfall led to mud slides, road closures, water and power outages and property damage across the county. 

“The flooding event that occurred over the weekend in Johnson County and the City of Paintsville triggered an emergency response from about all agencies within the county and the city,” said Paintsville/Johnson County Emergency Management Director Gary McClure. “We had a situation set up, wherein we already had a high river level and then, in conjunction with that, we had gotten some light rain on Friday, and on into Saturday we started receiving heavier rain, followed by very heavy rain Saturday night.”

McClure said a combination of factors led to the flash flooding. 

“So, we had a combination of two things to happen,” McClure said. “The river was rising and at the same time, we suffered a pretty significant flash flooding event for the county. Of course, naturally, within the county, we took numerous calls through dispatch.”

Those calls represented many unique challenges, according to McClure. 

“It was just one call right after another,” McClure said. “People trapped in their homes with water all the way around the residence, people that had driven into high water and gotten stranded in their vehicle, we had numerous calls about that, plus flooding coming into people’s homes. So, all of the county fire departments were out assisting, but they were encountering trouble with all of the volunteers just getting out of their houses and getting to the fire station.”

According to McClure, however, in the face of the widespread nature of the flash flood, Johnson County was lucky to have no injuries or fatalities to report. 

“So, everybody was kind of under the gun, but fortunately, I don’t have any injuries or fatalities to report,” McClure said. “I feel like we were pretty fortunate that that occurred, because it was a very significant flash flood, and really, pretty much every area of Johnson County was covered in that situation.”

But injuries aren’t the only concern during weather events like this, according to Paintsville Utilities manager Bob Pack, who said the floods have wrought havoc on water delivery across Johnson County. 

“We had lines washed out countywide,” Pack said. As many as 500 homes were without water service after the storms, Pack said, but as of presstime Tuesday, that number was down to 50. “By the end of the day, that number may be zero,” Pack said, as work was ongoing.

Pack said lines that run along ditches and across creeks suffered the worst, but his team has been working around the clock. 

“We’ve made some guys mad when we have to send them home,” Pack said. “We have very dedicated workers who want to stay until the job is done. I will say this: We’re further ahead now than I thought we would be by now.” 

Pack said he appreciates the public’s patience as work continues to restore water service to 100 percent, and numerous boil water advisories will remain in effect across the county. 

For more information on current advisories, Pack said, customers can follow Paintsville Utilities on Facebook or stay tuned to local radio for updates. 

In the meantime, drinking water is being distributed at W.R. Castle Fire Department Station 1, the Thelma Fire Department, the Flat Gap Fire Department and Oil Springs Fire Department Station 1, according to a statement from Paintsville/Johnson County Emergency Management.

Data from NOAA showed that the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River reached “minor flood” status Saturday night and Sunday morning at a height of 35 feet, falling from the status to a height of approximately 30.21 feet by Monday morning at 9 p.m., joining Paint Creek at what the NOAA referred to as “action” levels. Paint Creek reached a maximum height of approximately 722.5 feet, only around three feet below its record level, according to the NOAA.

Recovery efforts are ongoing, according to McClure, while work continues at the PJCEM office to compile data from the event to be submitted at a state level. McClure said this information will aid the Governor’s office in knowing whether or not to request a federal declaration of emergency, which would open the area to both public assistance (in the case of damage to infrastructure or public property) or individual assistance (for property owners) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

PJCEM deployed Damage Assessment Teams Sunday in a bid to determine how much damage Johnson County homes had received and asked that anyone with any questions contact them by phone at, (606) 789-2260, or ,(606) 789-4221, while McClure stressed that, during this time when data compilation is ongoing, if homeowners are in the process of cleanup and/or repair to take photographs, document their damage and save receipts for any expenditures related to cleanup or repairs in case a statewide state of emergency is declared. 

For more information, follow the Paintsville/Johnson County Emergency Management Facebook page, where continued updates to the situation are posted as information becomes available.

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