FLATGAP — Mattresses, a wood deck, downed power lines and poles, couches and a refrigerator are piled in the front yard of Paul Stapleton's home.
The creek that runs around his two-acre property became a raging river during the flash floods that ripped through the Flatgap community in Johnson County this month, knocking homes off foundations, overturning cars and killing four people.
On Friday, Stapleton got much-needed help from Lexington police officers as he shoveled dirt and removed concrete blocks where his garage once stood. The building had crumbled into pieces, but its steel roof sits about a football field's length away in a grassy area.
"A lot of it is unrecognizable," he said, leaning on a shovel. "We left Monday morning with a home, and came back Monday evening with a flooded house. ... Hour, hour and a half max, we had water in the creek, coming out of the banks, (then) we had water 31/2 feet into homes."
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The high-water line in Stapleton's home was at least waist-high.
Stapleton stayed in his home with fiancée Jennifer Pennington, her 9-year-old daughter and their dogs as more than 4 inches of rain dropped within an hour July 13.
Lexington police detective Steven Cobb is a member of the First Responders Missional Community, an organization that focuses on helping public safety officials and other people in need after natural disasters. The organization has gone to Salyersville and other states to help families and other first-responders clean up and repair after disasters.
Cobb said he and about 25 other public safety personnel and volunteers would be at Stapleton's home until Sunday.
"I've found in my experience and going into these disastrous situations is that there's a shotgun approach," said Cobb, who joined the department in 2011.
"When the disaster happens, you really try to deal with trauma. You try to make sure they aren't hungry, the rain isn't hitting them and they have some place to lay their head down," he said. "But then when it comes to the cleanup, you can't do it the same way. It's not a fast process. Taking the whole group to one area until you can make a big impact in the long run is better."
On Friday, Ky. 172 in Johnson County hadn't changed much since the flood.
Homes were off their foundations. Several cars remained overturned, under and inside houses. Orange spray paint across the front of houses revealed a big X and a series of numbers. Other homes had "Keep out" spray-painted on them.
Concrete blocks and wood were scattered across lawns. Some lots were vacant. Trash was piled close to the road for collection. Carpet, glass and children's playpens were stuffed in black trash bags. A stuffed animal hung on a bent guardrail near the road.
Road signs were either on the ground, bent or nowhere to be found. Roads were severely cracked. Cones closed off roads that had gaping holes.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet employees were helping with downed trees and power lines. Flatbed trucks were being used to move cars.
The banks of creeks were littered with couches, beds and other furniture, and wood framing of houses.
Cleaning up what the flood left will take a while.
Lexington police Sgt. Ronald Keaton grew up in the small community. He hadn't seen anything like this, but when the floods hit, he knew he had to head back home and help. Flatgap made him who he is, he said.
"It's a beautiful area, and to see water in the spots where the water came in is just unbelievable," he said. "Growing up here, it was always neighbors helping neighbors. Whenever a huge catastrophe like this happens, you feel the need to come down here and help them out."
Keaton, who is staying with relatives in nearby Sal yersville, said his friends and loved ones didn't have a chance to get away from the water. Homes were flooded in minutes.
"Everybody works hard, and they've worked hard to get what they've got here, and in the matter of a half-hour, they lost it all," Keaton said. "That's what makes it so much more devastating to them. Knowing the hard work that they all put in to make an honest living and a good life for themselves, and to see what has happened to it is really heartbreaking."
Keaton and the others are attempting to help Stapleton salvage what he can. Keaton and Cobb led a group into Stapleton's home to help remove appliances and drywall. One of Stapleton's friends used a Bobcat to dig out a huge toolbox he needs at his automotive shop not far from his home.
Stapleton, who rescued his brother Terry and his sister-in-law Beverly with his boat, said he probably has $100,000 worth of damage. He doesn't have flood insurance, but he plans to rebuild.
"We've gotten a lot of help," he said, watching Keaton and Cobb load a trailer with concrete blocks, bricks, vinyl siding and trash. "It's amazing what kind of help we have. More than what I could've imagined. ... It's been some long days. But we're used to it."
As for as the big pile in his front yard, he plans to have a bonfire.