Bourbon County

Flood took more than just possessions

Diane Byrd and her family escaped the fast-rising Dix River in northern Lincoln County with a couple of changes of clothes and her mother's ashes.

There was no time to grab the kittens and chickens from the barn, the videotape of her mother's funeral, her wedding photo album.

To the north, Brian Minix barely made it to higher ground as the mighty Kentucky River rose toward his home in Jessamine County. He gunned his Kia Rio fast enough to push across a bridge already covered with water, which splashed over the hood.

He got out with one duffel bag of clothes and two pairs of shoes. The river swallowed the house he'd spent three years remodeling, and everything in it.

In Liberty, Adriel Schmiers and Charles Bentley watched from higher ground as the roiling Green River knocked their trailer off the foundation blocks. The flood ruined all their belongings, including a leather cigarette-lighter case that had belonged to her father, who let her chew on it when she was cutting teeth, and the Bible she'd gotten for Christmas at age 12.

"It's so awful," Schmiers said. "Just complete devastation."

Officials are still assessing how many homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged in the widespread flooding in Central and Southern Kentucky last weekend, but it's clear many people lost a great deal.

With enough money, the clothes, furniture, cars and houses can be replaced. But the muddy floodwater also took things that can't be replaced. Much-loved pets. Family photos. Keepsakes.

For people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged, the last week has been an exhausting slog: finding somewhere to stay, calling every place they think might be able to help, dealing with insurance agents, cleaning up the mess, losing sleep from the stress.

"You're at a loss. You don't know where to turn for the first few days," said Janice Rowe, of Lincoln County. "It's really taxing."

Rowe and her mother, Sharon Dale, operated a mobile home park along the Dix River north of Stanford.

When the water started rising, they had workers use trucks and a backhoe to try to pull several of the trailers out of danger. But Rowe's home broke loose and lodged against a tree beside U.S. 27. She lost everything inside.

"We're just downhearted," she said.

That sorrow over losing everything is like a layer of mud over the other problems, along with the uncertainty of when life will be normal again.

That's the worst part, said Byrd, 38.

"Not knowing what's going to happen, not knowing when I'm going to have a place to come home to," she said. "When you don't have a place for your children to come home to after school ... it's horrible."

She hasn't been able to find a place where she, her teen-age children and her husband can all stay together, so they've been split up since the storms.

Lindsey, 16, and Jonathan, 14, are with friends so they can stay in school in Lincoln County. She and her husband, Johnny, are in another county.

Flood insurance was not available for her three-bedroom home, said Byrd, who works at McDonald's.

Her husband works in construction, an industry that has suffered in the recession. They didn't have much of a financial cushion before the flood, Byrd said.

Now, she said, they need "anything and everything" to get back on their feet.

Schmiers, 27, said she's had trouble sleeping since the flood.

"I've been up every night crying. I don't know where I'm going to live," she said.

Schmiers, who receives disability payments, and Bentley have been staying at a motel since the flood.

They had just finished painting walls and laying new floor tile in their rented trailer two days before the flood.

When the water started coming up, Bentley said, he went to check on neighbors and then helped Schmiers to higher ground. There was no time to save furniture, clothes, several computers Bentley was repairing to make some money, or even their cats.

Spicy survived the flood, but Little Charlie drowned.

Across the flooded areas of the state, people hope the federal government will provide assistance to help home and business owners recover.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency began doing damage surveys in Kentucky on Friday, state officials said.

That work, scheduled to continue through the weekend, will determine whether President Obama declares Kentucky a disaster area, making assistance available to government, businesses and homeowners.

Officials encourage people whose property was damaged to take photos, save repair receipts and report damage to their local emergency management director.

"We are hoping with all of our hearts that FEMA does help," said Sarah Clark, of Paris.

Clark said she and her husband, Joshua, had no flood insurance on the home near Stoner Creek where they lived with their 18-month-old baby.

It was not in a floodplain and had never been flooded since it was built more than 50 years ago, Clark said.

But last Sunday, it had 2 feet of water throughout. They'll have to replace floors, drywall and maybe the heating and air conditioning systems.

"We are overwhelmed," Clark said.

It's been a tiring week cleaning up the flood damage and beginning to rebuild, said Donna Rigney, who owns The Village Restaurant in Liberty with her husband, John. The restaurant was flooded more than 5 feet deep.

Since then, the couple and employees and friends have cleaned out the mud, removed damaged wallboard, carried out damaged equipment, thrown away what couldn't be saved and washed and sanitized the rest.

"We go home at night and believe me, we're pretty tired," Donna Rigney said. "But what else is there to do but get up the next day and get back at it? This is my livelihood."

Throughout the flooded areas, people talked of how quickly the water rose, pushed by torrential rainfall of 9 inches or more in some spots. That's one reason many people got out with so little.

Woody Sparks, 72, has lived along the Kentucky River in southern Jessamine County for more than 40 years. He's seen high water many times but said Sunday's flood was different.

"It came so fast that we didn't have time to do anything," he said.

He, his wife JoAnne and their sons Jesse, 18, and Josh, 17, were home when the water started rising. They moved some vehicles to higher ground, but when they returned for one more, high water cut them off.

"I said, 'Woody, we're in trouble,'" JoAnne Sparks said.

Rescuers came for them in a rubber boat. They were allowed to take one outfit apiece and their two small dogs, Samson and Delilah, JoAnne Sparks said.

After the massive 1978 flood washed away his house, Woody Sparks had rebuilt on the same spot, making the house higher. Last week's flood didn't get into the living quarters.

The river flooded the guest house next door where their sons lived, however, destroying clothes, beds and personal items.

As Woody and JoAnne Sparks cleaned up Friday, he had hung up the guitar Jesse plays in church to see if it would dry.

Donna Barnett, who lived along Hickman Creek, which flows into the Kentucky River near where Sparks lives, said the creek rose 6 feet in one hour.

She moved her late husband's truck and her dogs up the hill but then had to get out because water was nearly over the bridge she would have to cross.

"I didn't have enough time to get anything," said Barnett, 55, who is disabled because of back problems.

The floodwater engulfed her house and valuables she had spent years accumulating — clothes, collectible dolls, antique furniture, a family Bible dating from the 1800s.

She's staying with her daughter, Misty Chapman, but misses her own place and her own things.

"I wouldn't have took a million dollars for what I had, and my place," Barnett said. "It was took from me in a matter of a few hours."