By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Water continues to rise throughout the Tri-County, but county emergency officials all say they are ready if the situation worsens.
Whitley County Emergency Management Director Danny Moses said right now, low-lying areas are getting hit with high water.
“Mossy Gap and Lick Fork Road are impassable,” Moses said. Both areas are east of Williamsburg.
He also said the park in town faces flooding — all of which began Wednesday.
He expects the water levels to continue to rise, as runoff water from Harlan and Pineville has yet to flow into Whitley County.
“It should get a little worse,” Moses said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like some floods we’ve had in the past.”
No one has sought shelter from flood waters, and Moses said “no one usually asks.”
“People who are used to it, they just hunker down in their homes,” he said. “And some just stay with family and friends.”
He said being prepared and informed is important when it comes to flooding. “Living in this area, you have to,” Moses said.
As of Wednesday, he said there were no plans for sandbagging to protect areas from flooding. “I’ve been here for five years, and we haven’t done any sandbags yet,” Moses said. “I hope it stays that way for a long time.”
He said area residents stay ready for intense weather. “We’re pretty lucky in this area,” he said. “Most people who live here know how to prepare.”
He also credits the flood wall through town. “That flood wall has really helped with flooding in the city,” Moses said. He explained the wall runs parallel to Second Street and meets on the south end of Main Street. He said it was completed some time in the 1990s.
There are several neighborhoods and areas in Whitley County already challenged by flood waters, according to Moses. He said River Road and other areas in the southern part of the county have been cut off. Some other flooded roads are one way in or out, leaving residents on those streets either stranded at home or on the other side of the flood path.
No matter what flooding comes, however, Moses said Whitley County is ready.
Knox County also faces flooding issues. Several roads are already cut off, including T Run Branch Road near Artemus and California Hollow Road near Flat Lick.
“We’re having sporadic reports of flooding now,” said Knox County EMS Director Gerald Baker. “But even dispatch is not hearing any ‘big reports’ of flooding.”
He expected the Cumberland River to crest some time overnight. “(Today) we may see some more flooding,” Baker said.
He said areas east of Flat Lick were “covered with backwater off the river where the streams feed in.”
He added “several hollows and branches are covered with both backwater and running water, but there have been no (property) damage reports — yet.”
No evacuations were slated, and he said the county has never had mass evacuations. “That hasn’t been a problem in the past,” Baker said. “The river has actually been higher than it is right now.”
However, if flood waters do get out of control, Baker said they’re ready. “Of course, we’re prepared to rescue (people), as always,” he said. “It’s not anticipated, but we’re ready for it.”
They have shelter sites planned, and Baker said it only takes a short time to stock them and open the doors, if it becomes necessary.
Like Whitley County, Knox County’s residents are familiar with the Tri-County weather patterns. “Most people in flood-prone areas are (aware) of it,” Baker said. “They know it’s coming, and they get out or their families get them out.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in the past not having to do any evacuations,” he said. “Even if we start seeing significant flooding, crews are on standby.
“We’re ready to roll out to it.”
He said the county fire departments are “great to help” when it comes to these situations.
The bottom line: Knox County is prepared. “We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” Baker said.
The heavy rain event should clear out by tonight, according to David Shallenberger, a general forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jackson.
“(Through) 7 p.m., there are four counties to the east (Bell, Harlan, Letcher and Pike) which should get three-quarters of an inch of rain extra over the current,” Shallenberger said, explaining that amount gets added to what’s already fallen.
Concerning the Tri-County, he said “even there we’re looking at three-tenths to a half-inch of more rain.”
Areas along the Cumberland River are closely monitored. He said in Williamsburg, the river is expected to crest at 24 feet — nearly three feet over the 21.2 flood stage level. That should happen some time Friday night, according to Shallenberger.
Barbourville’s leg of the Cumberland was expected to crest this morning at about 30 feet, he said. That’s about three feet over the flood stage.
From across the region, Shallenberger said the Jackson office has had “numerous calls” concerning flooding. He said Madison County is “inundated.” Pineville is on an “action stage,” according to Shallenberger, which he said means the Cumberland is flowing “at capacity” through the town.
But he said relief from the rain is in sight. “This system should (through the day) move to the east,” he said. “The duration (of the rain) is not long. (The Tri-County) area should be out of the precipitation entirely by (tonight).”
He added that dry weather is expected Friday and through the weekend. “A warm-up is expected,” Shallenberger said.
He also doesn’t anticipate a major event. “We’re not expecting any significant flooding,” he said.