Whitley and Knox counties saw historic levels of flooding last week

Home on 92E at Jackson Subdivision. | Photo by Rebecca Conn

Last week’s record flooding has left many without food, water or a sense of direction as to where to start in the recuperation process.

Whitley County and Williamsburg City officials are looking to help ease that process for its citizens.

During Monday evening’s City Council Meeting, Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison announced that last week’s flood crested in Williamsburg at 34.88 feet. The record set during the flood in 1977 was 35.03 feet.

“It was frightening to look at the water levels and how powerful this water had been, and how much damage it had done to these people, their homes and their lives in general,” Whitley County Judge Executive Pat White Jr. told the Times-Tribune Monday.

Harrison also announced that several organizations and groups have teamed up to provide help to those in need.

Organizers from God’s Food Pantry will be teaming up with Williamsburg Tourism and Immanuel Baptist Church in helping distribute non-perishable food items.

If you need help with obtaining food due to the flood, call 606-528-4975.

For more information on donating non-perishable food items, call 606-549-0350.

For clothing, toiletries and other necessities, call 606-549-1372.

Harrison said officials are asking that those who plan on donating clothing items to wash them before donating them.

For a bucket of cleaning supplies provided by the Red Cross, call 859-428-4975.

Harrison said that the city would also attempt to help citizens with cleaning up. Thanks to volunteers from the United Methodist Relief and the Kentucky Baptist Relief, citizens will be able to call 606-549-6045 and ask for help in larger cleaning projects.

Those larger projects include tasks like cleaning drywall, putting up new drywall, pulling up carpet, clearing debris from one’s property, etc.

For those who can’t donate time, food or clothing, Harrison said the best way to help is to donate to the Red Cross.

“That’s how they can help, and do the things that they do, and staff the reception areas, and do the assessments, it takes money to do all that,” said Harrison.

The assessments Harrison referred to are required for financial aid.

“We need that information because it’s going to effect our eligibility for funding. So we need to know what damage we’ve had, and to try to document it the best we can,” explained White. “Kentucky Emergency Management has been working with us where we can take pictures and they can be directly uploaded to their system through an app that they now have.”

White encourages those with property damage to report the damages to his office by calling 606-549-6000 or by calling the Red Cross at 859-428-4975.

Harrison said that the city had three places for those in need to go during last week’s flood. The city set up a warming station in its fire hall. Williamsburg also turned its tourism convention center into a reception area. However, Harrison said that regulations dictate that if a reception area is opened it needs to be prepared to stay open for at least three days. The lack of showers at the city’s tourism center will mean that officials will have to find other areas to act as a reception area or install showers at the convention center.

Harrison was able to contact the Kentucky National Guard and asked that they open the city’s armory to provide shelter.

Like many in our region, officials are saying that they are keeping a close eye on Wednesday’s weather. As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service (NWS) is forecasting 100 percent chance of precipitation for Wednesday with amounts between a quarter and half an inch possibly accumulating Wednesday night.

So far the NWS has issued a flash flood watch for the Tri-County and surrounding areas in effect from Wednesday evening through early Thursday morning.

“So we’re tracking that storm, I’m checking the river level update basically every hour as those updates come in,” said White. “I’m tracking the Weather Channel and other sources. I’m coordinating with Kentucky Management in trying to get as much up to date information as we can to be prepared as best as we can for what’s coming. But the current river forecast shows us retreating with water levels for another couple feet, two or three feet, and then the storm [Monday] and Wednesday keeping us at that level until we get past that evening Thursday, something in that range.”

Harrison said he felt for the people outside of the city’s limits who lived further out in Whitley County.

“I still feel for the people that are out there in the county and are going to be dealing with it for at least a week.”

He also said that University of the Cumberlands is dealing with some damages caused by the flooding and that Briar Creek Park received the brunt of the damage. However, Harrison also mentioned that the city’s water was not contaminated during last week’s flood.

“We came through it perfectly,” Harrison said on the city’s water intake. “It was around it, it was up on it, but it didn’t get in it.”

Both White and Harrison expressed their gratitude of past council members in building the city’s flood wall. Both also sent out their gratitude to first responders who had to work during last week’s flood to save those who had become stranded.

Harrison said some first responders worked up to 20 hours straight last week.

“They saved babies, they saved dogs. Everybody deserves a big thank you. Everybody worked together,” he said.

While the threat of a repeat rise of the Cumberland River this week isn’t a guarantee, city and county officials around the area are staying vigilant.

“If water levels do come up,” said White, “if we do see these type of events again, please use extreme caution around flooded roadways. You never know what’s up and under that water when you drive into it.”

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