Floods wash out classrooms and tests

BELFRY — By the time Belfry Middle School’s assistant principal, Matt Mercer, reached the school Saturday morning, the waters of nearby Pond Creek had washed out the basement classrooms where 200 sixth-graders learn.

The nearly finished statewide test booklets for all 600 of the school’s students were floating helplessly in six feet of water. They had been stored in one of the basement rooms over the weekend so that students could finish the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System by Tuesday.

In one swift blow, the deluge of rain and rising water from Pond Creek potentially washed out Belfry Middle for the rest of the school year — and maybe its chances of cracking the top five schools in the state in CATS testing.

“We were No. 7 last year, and our goal was to be No. 5,” Mercer said. “Our students were putting in a great effort. The teachers were working hard all year. To see all that hard work and all of the CATS testing material floating around there, it’s tough.”

It’s unclear whether the students will have to retake the tests — or where they would even do so.

“We’re waiting for a little direction from the state,” Pike County Schools Superintendent Roger Wagner said. “We’re also waiting to see if the president declares this a federal disaster.”Schools across Eastern Kentucky have been disrupted by last weekend’s high waters, which washed out roads and disrupted bus routes. But Pike, Breathitt and Floyd counties suffered damage that forced several schools to close.

In addition to Belfry Middle School, Pike County had to shut down Johns Creek Elementary School.

It could take another week to get the school ready for its nearly 900 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, principal Kenneth Adkins said. And some students still couldn’t get to school, he said.

The school lost thousands of dollars’ worth of high-tech gadgets, including about 45 microscopes, as well as 18 pianos, Adkins said.

Water came up to the tops of doorways in the one-floor Rousseau Elementary School in Breathitt County, Superintendent Arch Turner said. The school’s 100 students were moved into classrooms at other schools, and the system is forging ahead with CATS testing.

Turner said the schools were waiting for the state to issue more tests, because many copies were ruined in floodwaters.

The schools’ resource centers were helping students who lost clothing and food in floods.

“Some families lost everything,” Turner said.

In Floyd County, where three schools were damaged, Superintendent Henry Webb said officials decided to send kids back to school starting Thursday so the school district could help students who need clothes, food or other support after the floods.

Students in that county are just starting to take the CATS test this week, another reason for going back, he said.

Not high enough

In the Belfry area of Pike County, residents face a long task of wringing out their community, which for many of the “Pond Creek Nation,” as some call themselves, is a new experience. The school, in fact, had always been considered to be on ground high enough to avoid the reach of Pond Creek, which runs parallel to U.S. 119 about a football field away from Belfry Middle’s front door.

Nearby residents moved about a dozen cars Friday night to what they thought was high ground in the school’s parking lot.

It didn’t work. The water swallowed them up, too.

“When you get six inches of rain in two hours, there’s no other place for it to go,” said state Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, who represents the Belfry area.

State Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said several Pike County communities that hadn’t flooded during past downpours or even the big flood of 1977 were washed out this time. One theory, she said, is that new construction of buildings and roads, such as last year’s completion of U.S. 119 that runs through Belfry, might have sped up the runoff during the weekend’s downpour.Bailing out twice

At Belfry Middle, teachers have pulled double duty, bailing out the school during the day and cleaning up their waterlogged homes at night. County jail inmates have been let out on work release to help with efforts at both Johns Creek Elementary and Belfry Middle.

By Tuesday, inmates and volunteers had emptied the middle school’s basement and tossed mud-caked desks, equipment from the nurses’ office, computers and papers into half a dozen mountainous piles on the building’s front lawn.

Mercer, the assistant principal, pointed to two bins full of 200 muddy graphing calculators that the school bought last year for $7,000. All were ruined.

Each room also had high-tech Promethean boards that operate like digital blackboards, and they are now technological scrap.

Mercer said the damage is in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

It will take several more days to bleach and disinfect the basement rooms before health department officials can assess what else must be done. Only then can the rebuilding begin.

“There’s no way we’ll be back in this building before the end of the school year,” Mercer said. “We’re three weeks from the 28th — that’s our last day.”

He said the residents near Pond Creek have more pressing concerns than school days and CATS tests.

“The big picture here is we’ve got kids who don’t have homes,” Mercer said. “And what we pray is we get water to all our families, and we get these roads repaired so we can get medical aid to them.”