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Ky. transportation secretary gives update on flood recovery, points to lessons from tornado outbreak

A rescue team with a local fire department rescues flood victims in eastern Kentucky. (Screenshot from Team Kentucky press conference.)
A rescue team with a local fire department rescues flood victims in eastern Kentucky. (Screenshot from Team Kentucky press conference.)

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray spoke to state lawmakers Wednesday to provide an update on the cabinet’s efforts to aid flood recovery eastern Kentucky.

Several counties in southeastern Kentucky were devastated by flooding at the end of July that left 38 people dead and brought the Federal Emergency Management Agency back to the state less than eight months after a deadly tornado outbreak devastated the western part of the state.

These initial days and weeks after the disaster have seen Transportation Cabinet workers clearing and repairing roads and bridges so additional other recovery tasks can get underway.

“Regrettably, we're getting a lot of practice at dealing with these really troubling and challenging conditions and situations,” Gray said.

Gray noted during his presentation that 16 of the nearly 900 cabinet employees living in the region had their homes damaged or destroyed by the flooding. He described the situation as “all hands on deck” and said more than 200 employees from the cabinet’s nine districts outside the disaster area had come to the region to assist with recovery.

Nearly 400,000 miles and nearly 100,000 hours have been logged by employees who have been assisting in this disaster. Part of the work has been in transporting equipment, supplies and travel trailers for displaced Kentuckians.

“The travel trailers is a key piece of the … lessons learned from the tornado, as well as having those travel trailers available for us,” Gray said.

In the aftermath of the December tornado outbreak, the state purchased 200 travel trailers for displaced Kentuckians to live in as medium-term housing during the recovery process.

KYTC has also provided pop-up sites for Kentuckians to replace lost licenses to those impacted by the flooding. Gray said the cabinet has issued 1,921 licenses and IDs to people in flooded counties.

Cities and counties have been offered a piggyback on the state’s debris removal contract through a mutual aid agreement and, according to Gray, 11 of the 13 counties in the disaster declaration took the offer as well as several cities.

Gray said so far KYTC has inspected roughly 1,100 structures and identified about 150 structures that need to be replaced or repaired due to flooding damages. The cabinet has already started replacing 11 of those structures under emergency conditions.

“Our crews cleared at least 153 landslides and mudslides and unclogged dozens of culverts and drain structures so far,” Gray said.

AshBritt Environmental’s bid for debris removal was selected out of nine contract bidders. As of Wednesday, the company had already removed over 900 loads of debris in Breathitt, Floyd, Knott, Letcher, Perry and Pike counties. Ashbritt is working alongside another company – ER Assist – to make sure there’s accurate accounting of the debris for FEMA reimbursements.

“The idea is that, of course, that no one wants to leave any money on the table by failing to follow FEMA’s rules and protocols on documentation and auditing,” Gray said. “But again, a bit of a lesson learned from western Kentucky is you can both follow the proper protocols and not waste time in getting work done.”

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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