Jessamine County

A half year later, much of Kentucky struggles to recover from flood

The Village Restaurant in Liberty was coated with mud in the May 2 flood that led to a federal disaster declaration covering 83 counties.
The Village Restaurant in Liberty was coated with mud in the May 2 flood that led to a federal disaster declaration covering 83 counties.

LIBERTY — Six months after flash floods caused damage across more than three-quarters of the state, there are different stories of the recovery on opposite sides of U.S. 127 in Liberty.

On the west side of the highway, muddy, smelly water filled the Village Restaurant more than 5 feet deep on May 2, but at lunchtime Thursday it was brightly lit and filled with the smell of home cooking.

Customers lined up along the buffet for salmon patties, fried chicken, green beans, macaroni and stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and strawberry cobbler.

Across the street, though, Allen's Shell Mart sat dark, cordoned off by caution tape. The convenience store has been closed since the flood.

A company was supposed to install new gas pumps this week to replace those ruined by water from the swollen Green River, but owner Linda Allen got word late last week that there will be a delay.

She hopes she can reopen by the first of the year.

"I've got to do something. I'm running out of money," Allen said.

A half year after the rains on Derby weekend, many Kentucky communities are a long way from full recovery.

Most businesses have reopened, but some have not. Many people have repaired their houses or found new places to live, but others are living with relatives.

The May 1 and 2 flooding caused at least four deaths and led to a federal disaster declaration covering 83 counties.

Federal officials estimated the high water caused $37.6 million in damage to roads, bridges and other publicly owned property, said Buddy Rogers, spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management.

Cities and counties identified 2,460 repair projects after the flood, Rogers said.

More than 7,300 households with damage applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to state officials.

An area of Liberty along U.S. 127 was particularly hard hit.

Mayor Steve Sweeney said 54 businesses were flooded. The high water also destroyed several trailers at a mobile home park along 127.

Volunteers pitched in to carry soggy stock out of stores, push out the slick mud left behind when the water receded and tear out ruined drywall and flooring.

Businesses donated equipment for the cleanup and food for those in need.

"When it gets down to it and you see neighbors in need, many, many people step up and do what they know to be the right thing," Sweeney said.

All but one of the businesses have reopened, though some only recently. Some went to new locations.

Donna Rigney, who owns the Village Restaurant with her husband, John, said it took seven weeks of hard work to get back in business.

They had to remove damaged wallboard, insulation and wiring, clean out the mud, spray the walls with a bleach mixture to kill mold, and then rebuild, put in new equipment and re-stock.

"I'd come in here every day and clean and scrub and I think, 'Oh man, am I ever going to get reopened?' '' Rigney said.

The day before they reopened on Father's Day, she and her husband discovered all their chairs, which they'd put in storage after cleaning, had white mold on them.

They reopened with rented chairs.

Rigney took out a 30-year, low-interest loan from the federal Small Business Administration to finance the recovery.

"I'm hoping that the business will take care of the debt," she said.

Allen, however, said she couldn't pull together the necessary documentation — some of it destroyed in the flood — in time to apply for an SBA loan.

She had flood insurance, but with a $50,000 deductible, she got only $42,000.

Businesses are not eligible for grant money from FEMA. She has used savings and borrowed money to repair the store, Allen said.

"It's been rough," she said.

Carol Lee, of Versailles, owned three apartments in Liberty that were damaged in the flood.

She was eligible for a federal loan to help repair the building, which also houses a restaurant, but did not think she could afford to take on the debt.

She got some insurance money but did much of the cleanup herself. Her nephew, Scott Cochran, is helping her repair the apartments to hold down costs.

Cochran was finishing some trim and cabinetry work in one apartment on Thursday so a man could move in the next day. Repairs on the other two units will come later.

"We've had a long, hard battle. I'm ready for it to be over," Lee said.

The federal government has paid out more than $20 million for the May flood to people with needs such as temporary housing and repair work, officials said, and there will be more payments.

Some grant money is available to individuals after a flood for items such as clothing and appliances, but much of what people get is in the form of a loan, according to a FEMA fact sheet.

FEMA does not pay for items covered by insurance.

There is a cap on the amount available for home repairs — $29,900 at the time of the flood.

The goal is to make structures safe, sanitary and functional, not to restore people to 100 percent of what they had before the flood.

Patsy Reed, 67, said she and her husband Jim, who live near the Dix River in northern Lincoln County, got a few thousand dollars from FEMA and a $2,900 SBA loan after the May flood damaged their home and his auto repair shop.

The assistance was not enough to cover all the repair costs, however.

They've used savings and retirement money and sold a camper and other items to finance repairs, which they are doing a little at a time as they get money.

"It takes a big toll on you," Reed said.

Four of her sons are planning to come in from out of state on Thanksgiving to finish repairing the office area, Reed said, but there's more work to be done.

Donna Barnett, 55, whose home near the Kentucky River in Jessamine County was badly damaged in the flood, just recently got her final insurance check for the structure and contents.

But she's still arguing with the company over whether to rebuild her house on the same land or relocate — the option she prefers — so she's uncertain where she will end up.

She has lived with her daughter, Misty Chapman, and her family since the flood. They're close, but Barnett is not entirely comfortable with the situation.

"I'm used to having my own stuff and putting it where I want to," said Barnett, a former factory worker disabled because of back problems. "I want my own place."

Her dog Ice, a Great Pyrenees, apparently feels the same way. When Barnett leaves for town, he often waits for her at her old house nearby until she comes back.

Up the river, floodwaters ruined winter clothing and a boat repair shop that Charlie Hall had on the first level of his home in eastern Jessamine County.

Hall, 67, and his wife, Doris, have lived on Camp Daniel Boone Road at Valley View since the early 1960s.

The water rose to within 16 inches of the second-floor living quarters in the May flood, but did not get in.

The couple got $2,000 from FEMA because Doris Hall and their daughter stayed elsewhere during the flood, but Hall said he has never wanted to move away despite being flooded several times before.

He is a longtime member of Riverview Baptist Church, just down the road, and has stayed because of the church.

"It's beautiful out here. ...You live here, you're going to get flooded one time or another," Hall said. "It's a chance you've got to take, but it's well worth it to me."