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Beshear Guarantees State Support In Wake Of Weekend Flooding

Rachel Collins

Gov. Andy Beshear and local leaders got an aerial view of the flood damage in Calloway County this morning aboard a U.S. Army helicopter with Kentucky National Guardsmen. During a media briefing following the tour, Beshear assured county and city officials the state will provide support. 

Beshear complimented Judge-Executive Kenny Imes’ quick response with the county’s state of emergency declaration. He said his office received state of emergency declarations from more than 29 counties and seven cities, and the first one he saw was from Calloway County.


“In Murray, your officials were reacting and they knew the seriousness of the situation that we were facing,” Beshear said. “We've got a lot of structural damage here in Murray but to our knowledge, we don't have one lost life. That's people protecting people, realizing what our priorities are, and knowing that we can rebuild. I'm here today to promise that the state is going to do everything it can to be a good partner in moving forward, in digging out, and in rebuilding.”


Beshear said the state of emergency declaration issued by his office will “remove red tape” for communities who need support in rebuilding, and guaranteed cooperation from the state’s cabinets in assisting. He said the state emergency management office is working to “get a full account” of the damage across the commonwealth from the storms because he believes Kentucky could qualify for a national level declaration, which could open up more funding. 


“We're going to do everything we can to get every bit of federal and state help here to get back on track as quickly as possible,” he said. “Thankfully, it's going to be dry in the next couple days. But if we've learned anything, what's coming the next week or the week after, we have to be prepared for.”

Credit Rachel Collins / WKMS News
Calloway County Judge-Executive Imes at the Kyle-Oakley Field Airport near Murray, Kentucky

Imes thanked Beshear for the state’s support in resources and speedy response when the county asked for help. He said seeing the immediate response from the state reaffirmed for him that Kentucky is special. 

“Even throughout this winter with the pandemic, the Calloway County collective bargaining, everybody has really tried to work together, as the governor said, regardless of political affiliations or our thoughts. That's what makes Kentucky, and particularly Calloway County, one of the greatest places, I think, on the face of this earth,” he added.


Murray Mayor Bob Rogers said the damage in Murray isn’t as visible when one is driving down the city roads, but it’s visible in some of the apartment buildings and local businesses that were already struggling through the pandemic. He said it’s also visible with the city’s utilities workers and road crews who had just finished repairs and cleanup from the winter storms that dumped several inches of ice and snow, and are now doing the same following the flood.


“But we'll continue to work together, and we'll get through this,” he said. “And certainly this has identified some areas that we're going to have to try to figure out a way to stop this flooding, because there are some areas [in the city] that get hit every time.”


Murray State University President Bob Jackson thanked the governor for coming to show his support, he thanked Imes and Rogers for their leadership, and he thanked the first responders who have “stood tall every time we’ve called on you.”


Credit Rachel Collins / WKMS News
MSU President Bob Jackson

“Whether you're on our campus at Murray State, or whether you're in this community, or whether you're in the city of Murray, or in this broader region, we really appreciate all you've done during the past year. We've been faced with a great deal. It will pass. The governor tells us each and every day it will pass, and we're at the beginning of the end.”


Beshear told WKMS News his office isn’t solely focusing on short-term goals regarding recovery from the flood event, but also long-term solutions in infrastructure needs.


“I think that one thing we heard today was about resiliency, about we need to not only assess the damage and fix it, but determine how we can be more resilient in the future, we know we're going to have more flooding in the future, we know we'll have more snow events in the future. So in getting this type of bird's eye view, we can see how we can not only repair infrastructure, but make it more resilient for the future,” he explained. “We need to make sure we're building our roads and bridges the right way, placing them in the right places. So the next time this happens, we don't see the same amount of damage.”


Calloway County Emergency Management Director Chesley Thomas said southwest of Murray, and the east and northeast portions of the county were the hardest hit. 


“If you look at the rainfall totals map, it kind of makes a straight west-to-east line from the Calloway County-Graves County border to Murray. And then the line starts curving northeast as it leaves Murray and heads toward the lake. That path is pretty much the route we flew today,” he said. “We were very fortunate in the far southeast corner of the county and as far as floodwaters we were very fortunate in the northwest portion of the county.”


Credit MSU President Bob Jackson / Murray State University
Murray State University
An aerial view of Calloway County and flood damage from a helicopter tour this morning.

Thomas said several culverts were washed out, some of them with pipes that are six feet in diameter and large, 16-inch wide rocks that typically support them. He said bridge damage was minimal, and mostly due to accumulation of debris.

“We had some bridges that actually had entire trees lodged between the guardrail and the decking of the bridge, just sticking up in the roadway that we had to have the road department and our county fire rescue service was going on and clearing those bridges just to make them safe to travel again,” he said. 


Thomas said other damage included road surfaces washed away, a “significant” water main break in the Dexter-Almo Water District, and some flooding in homes, vehicles and businesses.


Over the coming months, Thomas said he and his deputy directors will collect data, documents and photos for an assessment by the federal emergency management agency (FEMA). He said during the aerial tour this morning, Beshear said he felt confident the state would reach the $7.5 million threshold to qualify for federal assistance, and the only flooded county Beshear had viewed so far was Calloway. 


Thomas said he didn’t know if the flooding event was historical, but said Beshear reported his office is working with the National Weather Service to dig through records. He said initial reports indicate Calloway County received the most rain of any county in the commonwealth. The official rainfall total for Murray is 5.6 inches, he said, but isolated areas in the county recorded just under 6.5 inches.

Credit MSU President Bob Jackson / Murray State University
Murray State University
An aerial view of flooding in Calloway County from a helicopter tour this morning.

Jackson said the university did receive some flooding damage, the majority of it at the Roy Stewart Stadium and the MSU West Farm Complex. He said the damage wasn’t major and the university is working to calculate the damage for state and federal assistance. The initial estimate is roughly $100,000, he said. 


Beshear also took a moment to address the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts, saying as of yesterday more than 700,000 Kentuckians are vaccinated. He noted the significance of the vaccination effort, especially considering the one year anniversary of the first case reaching Kentucky is a few days.


“This coming Saturday will be the one year anniversary of our first case. Pretty incredible to think we have three effective vaccines, 700,000 people are already vaccinated against a one-in-every-100-year pandemic in less than a year,” he said. “Here's the exciting news:over the next month alone, we're going to vaccinate another 700,000 people. So the pace is going to pick up and you're going to see it right here. We're gonna dig out of this crisis, and then we're gonna sprint out of this pandemic.”

Rachel’s interest in journalism began early in life, reading newspapers while sitting in the laps of her grandparents. Those interactions ignited a thirst for language and stories, and she recalls getting caught more than once as a young girl hiding under the bed covers with a flashlight and book because she just couldn’t stop reading.
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