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Eastern Kentuckians reflect on 50th anniversary of 1963 flood

By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg Email

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - On March 12, 1963, much of eastern Kentucky was underwater.

Four inches of rain fell in a short amount of time the previous day, causing rivers and creeks to rise to dangerous levels.

Some eastern Kentuckians still have vivid memories of the destruction.

Paul Gordon was living near downtown Hazard when the flood happened. His house nearly became one of the hundreds of others damaged.

"The water got about two feet deep," Gordon said. "It lacked about an inch or two of getting in the house."

Gordon remembered having a boat tied to the porch just in case he and his parents needed to escape.

"Around here it's the worst thing that's ever happened," Gordon said. "Of course, being saved by two inches is as good as being saved by a foot. If it gets in, that's when it gets really bad"

The North Fork of the Kentucky River crested at 37 feet. A Hazard newspaper article at the time put the damage estimate at more than $50 million.

The late Ernest Sparkman of WSGS radio tried to salvage some of the station's equipment.

"It was a hard decision to make," Sparkman said in a previous interview. "Just to take knives and cutters and pliers and just start cutting wires behind speakers and just clipping all the wires behind consoles. Naturally there was not enough time to disconnect any wiring and we just cut everything and started carrying it out."

For Gordon, the fact that 50 years have passed does not seem possible.

"We'd like to forget all the memories of the old flood," Gordon said. "Of course it's been a long time since we've had water and my great fear is it could always happen again. We've been lucky for several years not to have high water in Hazard."

The '63 flood affected many parts of eastern Kentucky. It came six years after the 1957 flood, which was even more destructive.

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