Two confirmed dead, several others missing after Johnson County flood

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - Two people are dead and several others were still missing after flash flooding hit Johnson County on Monday.

The Johnson County Coroner identified Willa Mae Pennington, 74, and Herman Eddie May as the two people killed in Monday's storm.

The storm left a large footprint on several counties in Kentucky, but wreaked havoc in Johnson County in particular. In addition to the two confirmed deaths, authorities spent much of the day trying to locate several other people who were reported missing.

Homes were destroyed, families were displaced and Governor Steve Beshear on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to provide assistance to local officials in Johnson and the surrounding area.

Earlier Tuesday, Kentucky State Police Trooper Stephen Mounts told reporters there was a fluctuating number of people who were missing in Johnson County. At that time, Mounts said at least seven were missing, but he noted that his list was "fluid." Many of those who are missing are between the ages of 22 and 74, he said.

Mounts said they were checking the identity of anyone entering the area. Anyone who is not supposed to be in the affected area would be turned around, he said.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, May had gotten out of his vehicle and tried to walk through flood waters along Patterson Creek in Flat Gap. It is unclear whether May fell or was bumped by a floating car, but he drowned before onlookers pulled him from water.

The county was hit by several inches of rain in the past 24 to 48 hours, leaving a trail of damage in the Eastern Kentucky region.

At least 50 rescues had been performed in the past 24 hours, Johnson County officials said.


The worst of the flooding happened in the Flat Gap Community along Ramey Branch. Highways 172 and 201 were both closed on Monday because of the excessive flood waters. Rescuers were searching 8 to 8.5 miles from Flat Gap to the south.

Johnson County Emergency Management Officials says more than 150 homes were destroyed, but 500 homes were affected to some extent. Debris, weather and high waters have all created challenges for rescue efforts.

Crews say they will keep looking for missing people despite an ongoing flash flood warning that is in place for most of the state. There is a long-term recovery committee that was created after 2012 tornadoes.

Volunteers from agencies in Johnson and all the surrounding counties have showed up to provide assistance.

Emergency Management Director Gary McClure said 47 National Guard members have gone to Johnson County. McClure said they are accepting -- and need -- donations. He said people can donate through the county judge executive's office. He said it will take a few days to get feet on the ground and figure out what donations are needed.

Captain Sean Welch, a KSP post commander, said officials have mapped out an area and their search is predominately on the ground. Weather is hindering their ability to search, and he said there have been breaks in communication. They have a large area to cover, and they want to keep responders safe. They don't want to create more of a situation by putting responders at risk, he said.

Welch said they are asking the public to avoid traveling to the area because it creates a lot of gridlock. If people are searching for loved ones, he said they should contact state police or Johnson County dispatch.

"Obviously, were dealing with difficulties out there with debris and still weather conditions and very dangerous conditions because of the water," he said.


Several residents in Johnson County said they lost everything they have.

An area just off Ky 172 was one of the hardest hit areas. People in that area were picking up pieces of their belongings, trying to keep their spirits high because they are still alive.

James Martin, who had lived at the Pennington Mobile Home Park for about 12 years, said he had never experienced flash flooding before Monday.

"I've lived right here and about a mile down the road. I'm 41 years old and I've never seen that creek out of its banks right there," he said.

Martin says he had only a few minutes to get out of his home before the unimaginable happened.

"My moms trailer, my sisters trailer it all went down through here. I mean it all disappeared at once," he said.

Tammy Collins had a similar experience.

"This is the end of our trailer ... half of it," Collins said in reference to the remains of her home. "The other half...we don't know what happened to it. We haven't found it yet."

Tammy Collins and her wife came home last night to the Pennington Mobile Home to find their home of less than a year in pieces.

Collins said her clothes were in the missing end of her trailer. She was still searching Tuesday afternoon.

But she is thankful her loved ones, including her dog Harley, are safe. Harley was home alone during the flooding, but he managed to escape.

"He made it out of the trailer and our next door neighbor Brian rescued him probably about a mile down the river here," she said. "I'm happy, very happy. I don't know what I would have done if I had lost him."

Now all that's left to do is pick up the pieces of what's left.

Martin said he has a new outlook on life.

"Last night, I came to the conclusion that, even though I lost everything I had, that my mom, my sister, my niece and myself we all go out of there alive," he said. "That's the best I can say about it."


Absolutely terrible!

Posted by Meteorologist Jim Caldwell on Monday, July 13, 2015

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