LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. — When rising water took over Edward Longstreath’s home in Letcher County Thursday morning, he knew the only way out was up the mountain.
What You Need To Know
- Many families in Letcher County lost their homes to flooding Thursday
- Neighbors became first responders and helped others get to safety
- The water damaged businesses in the Fleming-Neon community, leaving behind thick mud and shattered storefronts
- Rep. Angie Hatton of Whitesburg said areas that typically never flood were impacted
He took a ladder and pushed it against the earth above the back of the home, helping his wife, daughter, 9-year-old granddaughter and dog get to safety, he said.
They climbed to higher ground on their hands and knees and waited hours for the water to recede.
“It’s bad," he said on Friday. "It got in the house. Everything’s gone."
Nearly everything they own was damaged and caked in the thick mud that seemed to cover the whole county.
The family was staying at the fire house in town, but Longstreath wasn't sure what they would do next.
"Can’t go nowhere," he said. "That’s the main thing."
Down the street, the water had forced its way through businesses, places of worship and the library in the Fleming-Neon community, leaving behind shattered glass and waterlogged books.
By Friday afternoon, crews were boarding up the library and using heavy equipment to clear streets.
Inside a laundromat, the mud was ankle deep and a line dividing the clock on the wall showed the water had nearly reached the ceiling.
The rushing water forced the door open and knocked over two 400-pound washing machines, the owner said.
It was the same scene in nearby Whitesburg, where Richard Brown was sucking up muddy water with a wet vacuum Friday, working to get his barber shop and hair salon back in business.
“Worst I’ve seen in my life,” he recalled. “Hope I never see nothing like this again.”
Rep. Angie Hatton, who grew up in Whitesburg, said the flooding "came out of nowhere," and the north fork of the Kentucky River reached 21 feet.
"We’re used to flash flood warnings, but nothing like this," she said. "These are areas that never flood."
Hatton spent Thursday helping with rescue efforts, alongside some who had just lost their homes, she said.
"We had to become the first responders," she added. “It was a horrible and terrifying experience, but it was also the most heartwarming experience of my life."
The people in her community are physically and emotionally exhausted, said Hatton, and while they don’t yet know the extent of the damage, they know they will need help.
“You hear stories and stereotypes about Eastern Kentucky, but there are not better people anywhere in the world,” she said. “The kind of love and bravery that I saw from my community yesterday, I will never forget.”