‘It was heartbreaking.’ They floated on a mattress to salvage items from flooded home

Adam Joseph, at right on the mattress, and a friend made a return trip to recover possessions from his flooded home in Pineville.
Adam Joseph, at right on the mattress, and a friend made a return trip to recover possessions from his flooded home in Pineville. Photo provided by Ashley Beach

Tiffany Gambrell and Adam Joseph of Pineville stayed up late Saturday night and watched the water rise across the road from their home.

By 4 a.m. Sunday, the high water mark was still far away, so they went to sleep thinking they were safe.

At about 7 a.m., they woke to a phone call.

Their neighbor Ashley Beach said the water was now surrounding them, and that they needed to bring their three children to safety.

“We looked out the back door and out the front door and we were completely surrounded,” Gambrell said.

They waded into the freezing chest-deep water and took the children to Beach’s house.

Within an hour, the water was flooding their trailer.

“It was heartbreaking sitting there watching your stuff be destroyed,” Gambrell said. “It was awful.”

They watched as the water covered Gambrell’s car and floated their washing machine downstream.

After the children were safe, Joseph and Gambrell went back to the trailer to recover some of their belongings.

They found their mattress floating inside, and used it as a raft to transport some clothes and other odds and ends out of the home.

“We get a lot of flood warnings and it’s never gotten this bad,” Beach said.

The heavy rain that flooded homes, school buses and properties also inundated Cumberland Falls.

By Monday, the water receded and they were able assess the damage.

“It looks like a tornado just went through there,” Gambrell said.

Beach launched a GoFundMe page to help Gambrell get back on her feet.

Much of the floodwater receded Monday throughout Eastern Kentucky, state officials said.

Six counties — Harlan, Perry, Knox, Letcher, Floyd and Bell — and the city of Pineville declared states of emergency in response to the flooding, said Monica L. French, spokeswoman for Kentucky Emergency Management.

Some low-lying areas in northern Bell County were still inaccessible Monday afternoon becausewater continued to block some roadways, said Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock.

“I can access 75 percent of the county,” Brock said, adding that the extent of the damage was not yet clear.

More than 100 homes in Harlan County were evacuated this weekend, and emergency crews had to do at least half a dozen rescues to help people out of cars they drove into high water, said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley.

Mosley said most people were back in their homes Monday, but a few remained in shelters because their homes were severely damaged.

Emergencies were declared in several counties after rain over the weekend inundated properties, school buses and roads in Harlan, Bell, Knox, Letcher and Floyd counties.

Crews are continuing to clear mud off roads throughout Harlan County, and other county officials are assessing the damage to see if the county can qualify for state or federal aid, Mosley said.

One mudslide in the Cumberland area of Harlan County could cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to clean up, and damage created from a possible ruptured coal mine would also be expensive, Mosley said.

In Perry County, flood waters receded significantly as of Monday afternoon, said Jerry Stacy, Emergency Management Director of Perry County.

“We’ve had a few reports of some damaged homes,” Stacy said. “We’ll be doing damage assessments pretty much all week.”

Flooding in Letcher County damaged some bridges and roads, and caused landslides, said Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward.

“We’re getting phone call after phone call of problems,” Ward said.

In Pike County, the Big Sandy River stopped just short of flooding many homes, said C.J. Childers, Pike County’s deputy director of emergency management.

The water reached a few homes, Childers said, but many were just a few feet higher than the flood waters.

“It stopped just short,” Childers said.

Facebook video shows high waters in McCarr, Ky. river on the West Virginia-Kentucky border during February floods.

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @​HLWright