By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Floods, tornadoes and earthquakes — these are natural disasters which have affected the Tri-County region.
So far this year, flooding has been a big issue for Knox, Laurel and Whitley counties.
While those killed and injured obviously pay the immediate price when natural disasters strike, who pays for it long-term?
“Most of the cost is paid by the property owners and the insurance companies,” said Danny Moses, Whitley County Emergency Management Director. “Counties and cities do pay for some repairs if the damage is to public property.”
With flood waters ravaging the region in April, Gov. Steve Beshear declared Knox, Laurel and Whitley counties among a dozen counties in a state of emergency.
“The declaration is a part of the process to identify what assistance is needed in these counties because of the storms,” Beshear said. Beshear requested FEMA and the Kentucky Emergency Management to conduct joint preliminary damage assessments in the 12 counties, including the Tri-County area, to determine if Kentucky would qualify for federal assistance.
That, according to Moses, can aid in bringing recovery monies to the Tri-County.
“FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) does help governments offset some of the cost,” Moses said. “If it is a federally-declared disaster and if the damages meet the cost threshold.”
Knox County Emergency Management Director Mike Mitchell agreed that flooding has been a big issue so far this year. “We have a lot of residents who live in areas which are prone to flooding,” Mitchell said.
However, he explained much of the flooding experienced in Knox County is short-lived.
“For the most part, it is the areas that experience flash flooding where the water rises rapidly, then recedes quickly,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the bulk of the price tag gets paid by the residents and taxpayers.
“Floods are expensive to residents and taxpayers,” he said. “(That’s) because of costs of clean-up, and repairs to homes and public infrastructure.”
Mitchell added that could include removal of damaged roads, washed-out bridges, and debris.
Moses said individual costs could be high. “The cost to individuals would be their insurance deductible,” Moses said. “Or the cost of repairs if they do not have insurance.”
Taxpayers most often foot the bill for damages. “The cost to taxpayers would be the money the county spends in making repairs to roads and drainage tiles before and after the storm,” Moses said.
Moses said Whitley County tries to stay ahead of potential hazards. “This is an ongoing effort for Whitley County,” he said. “Our crews work daily to make sure all possible flooding issues are addressed before they become a hazard.”
Being prepared is the key, he said. “Whitley County works on preparedness daily,” Moses said. “We have formed a Local Emergency Preparedness Committee (LEPC). The committee is responsible for putting together a plan to deal with the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster.”
Whitley County Projects Director Amber Owens agreed. “Whitley County is always working to ensure that the county and its residents are prepared when disaster strikes,” Owens said. “We are very active in continuing education courses offered through FEMA.”
Owens said the county works with FEMA before and after a disaster. “We also apply for various grants through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Office to try and prevent, and to help clean-up, after a storm,” she said. “We are getting ready to apply for a grant to begin an educational campaign on emergency preparedness.”
County costs come before and after a disaster. “As far as a dollar figure, man hours and salaries are the biggest part of that,” Owens said. “The money spent before the disaster is used to train personnel and to mitigate possible areas of concern.”
Owens said while the county strives to be prepared for disaster, one community is ready. “In our area, the community best prepared in the event of a disaster is the City of Corbin,” Owens said. “Their personnel do an excellent job training and planning for events.”
Mitchell said Knox County residents are aware and ready for disasters. “For the most part, residents living in flood prone areas are aware of the hazards they are faced with,” Mitchell said.
He added that the county has a plan.
“Knox County has a Emergency Operation plan in place that deals with sheltering residents who would be displaced in a disaster event if that were ever necessary,” Mitchell said. “The communities that experience flooding more commonly than others rely on their local volunteer fire departments to assist with evacuations when, and if, that becomes necessary.”