State of Emergency Declared After Heavy Rain and Floods in Kentucky

March 2, 2021 Updated: March 2, 2021

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Kentucky firefighter Eddie Stacy was turning his firetruck around in the dark while responding to storm damage when he noticed a tiny light coming from the flooded Red River.

It was a cellphone a woman was waving from a car inundated with water that was rising by the minute.

Stacy and other members of the Hazel Green Fire Department sprang into action Sunday night, pulling five people from the car where water was up to the dashboard. Among those rescued were a 17-month-old boy and a woman who appeared to be having a seizure, Stacy said in a telephone interview Monday.

“We don’t do too much training on this water rescue,” Stacy said. “Instinct, it just kicks in.”

Heavy thunderstorms pounded parts of Appalachia on Sunday and Monday, sending rivers out of their banks and leading to multiple water rescues, mudslides, road closures and power outages, officials said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Monday because of heavy rainfall across the state.

“We are acting swiftly to ensure the safety and security of Kentucky families and to get the needed help to our communities,” he said in a statement. He said 13 counties and cities had declared states of emergency and the Kentucky National Guard was activated and was assisting with high water emergencies.

Stacy was part of a storm-response unit cutting down a tree that had fallen onto a road in Wolfe County about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Lexington. But a mudslide started and Stacy was forced to move his firetruck.

As he was turning around, Stacy noticed something in the floodwaters just down the road — a woman sitting on a stalled car’s door window, waving her cellphone flashlight and yelling for help.

“Nobody could hear from where she was,” Stacy said. “That little flashlight when I was driving down the road just caught my attention. It was God, I tell you. It was God to have me in that place where I was supposed to be.”

Stacy attached a 100-foot (30-meter) rope to the truck and himself and helped retrieve the car’s occupants. Wolfe County Sheriff Chris Carson used a front-end loader to lift out the woman who had the seizure. The car’s occupants were brought to the nearby fire station to be checked out by emergency technicians. The woman with the seizure eventually recovered, Stacy said.

A similar rescue occurred in central Tennessee, where four adults and an infant were removed from a partially submerged truck that slid off a water-covered bridge in DeKalb County, news outlets reported. In addition, a child was injured in Nashville when he tripped over a downed power line while playing outside, officials said.

In Lee County, Kentucky, some homes in Beattyville were evacuated Monday. County Judge-Executive Chuck Caudill told WYMT-TV that rescue crews used county dump trucks to help people escape their homes.

In Magoffin County, Kentucky, the Salyersville Nursing and Rehabilitation center was among the places evacuated Sunday. The facility decided to evacuate residents to assure they remain safe, CEO Joshua L. Calhoun said in a statement to WYMT. He said residents were taken to either a middle school or a hospital.

“While we do not have any water in the facility at this time and it is still accessible, due to the risk of flooding we made the decision to relocate,” he said.

Severe or moderate flooding was forecast Monday on several rivers in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, including different locations along the Kentucky River southeast of Lexington, the National Weather Service said.

In West Virginia, flooding hit some areas that were ravaged by power outages from ice storms last month. Floodwaters inundated roads in more than a dozen counties, highways officials said.

The National Guard assisted with some evacuations Sunday night in the Dunlow area of Wayne County. And about a dozen people had to be assisted at a church in the Kanawha County community of Cross Lanes on Monday after high water cut off access to a road, WCHS-TV reported.

In Roane County, residents in one public service district were asked to conserve drinking water after a flooded water plant broke down and was inaccessible. The Clay Roane Public Service District said in a social media post that water tanks were dangerously low and cannot be refilled until the floodwaters recede and the problem is repaired.

Some schools closed or delayed classes because of flooding concerns and about 13,000 customers were without power in Kentucky and West Virginia, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking service.

By John Raby and Rebecca Reynolds