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Eastern KY Flood Survivor | Sharing our Story

January 27, 2023

Hi, I'm liz.

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On July 28th, I woke up close to 2am to the beeping sound of an emergency alert on my cell phone. Through blurry eyes I could read that there was a flash flood warning for our area. I slipped off the side of my bed to look out the window. We lived in a 100 year old home in the bend of Troublesome Creek. I had gotten these alerts before. Most of the time during a flood, the creek water would creep up into our yard. One time it had gotten into our basement. But NEVER any more than that. To our knowledge, in the history of this home’s existence- flood water had never entered the actual house.

Knowing this, and having been through this before, I wasn’t in any rush to run out of the house and seek safety. Not yet anyway.

I looked out of our bedroom window, still not fully awake, and was confused to see a “glare” as if I was seeing the top of water. As I was looking out, still not putting the puzzle pieces together, my sister Faith called me. She had gotten a phone call at her house about the flood and was worried enough to call and check on us. “We’re okay!”, I said. “I’ll go look and check everything out.”

I got out of bed and went to the back of the house where I knew I could turn on an outside light and see what was going on. I was shocked to see that the flood water was level with the windows and all around our house. I ran to the entrance of our home and the water was almost level with the front door (we had a patio and a few steps up).

I began to panic. “Faith, I’m scared!” I began to say over and over. Corey, my husband, heard me from the bedroom and woke up. He asked me what was going on and I pointed to the open door where the flood water was inches away from getting in our house. We looked in the parking lot where our vehicles were parked. Still not totally grasping the reality of the situation, I said “Maybe we can move our vehicles?” upon looking closer, we realized our van was half way covered and our car was floating.

“Our car is floating!” Corey replied. I heard the panic in the voice of my always calm, always collected husband. At that moment, something shifted. My heart was pounding, and my entire body was shaking. My oldest daughter came into the room and realized what was going on. The electricity suddenly went out in our house and all over town. It was pitch black.

“We have to get out. Now!” I don’t remember which of us said it first, but we were sure. Panic had set into the pit of our stomachs and survival mode had kicked in. We ran to gather all of our kids with us. Corey scrambled to grab my work computer and ran it upstairs. Next he grabbed our bunny’s cage from the sunroom on the back of the house and ran her to the attic. We also got our cat inside who was stranded in the sunroom. He was terrified. He tried to run out into the flood water then realized what was happening and quickly ran back. Water began pouring into our house. Sometime in all of this my mom called and I was frantically telling her that our house was flooding and we were about to walk out into the water. My mouth was so dry I could barely speak.

I knew the danger of walking into flood water. The thought of being washed off my feet or not knowing what was in the murky depths was at the forefront of my mind. We felt getting out was our best chance at safety though, so we did.

The plan was for Corey to take our two oldest daughters (ages 9 and 6) across first, separately, and get them to safety. Then come back for me and our 2 year old. He took our oldest across first. The water was rising so fast. We had no time to take 2 more trips. One trip was all we had. “We don’t have time.” Corey said. “We all have to go now.”

With our 6 year old on his hip, and our two year old on my hip, we locked arms and crossed the over knee deep water together. I was relieved to find that though I wasn’t super steady on my feet, the water that we were walking through was not rushing and we were able to get past the water and to solid ground.

I remember the rushing sound of the water, and rain pouring harder and faster than I had ever seen. The smell of the muddy, putrid water.

There was a home above our house on a little hill where our neighbors lived. We had never really met each other before other than saying hello in passing. But they were our hope.

Corey was ahead of me with our older girls, and our youngest was still on my hip. We were quickly walking or running, I’m not sure now. We had gotten maybe 20 feet from our house. It couldn’t have been even a whole minute since we walked out of the flood water when I lost my footing. My foot went sideways, and without letting go of my toddler I fell on my leg. The crack was loud.

I yelled out “Corey, I broke my ankle!” I knew immediately from the sound and the pain that this was serious. I just had no idea how serious at the time.

Corey ran back to me. He heard the crack. He knew too.

The rain was still pouring but I remember thinking that I couldn’t really feel it anymore because every inch of me was soaked. We had out our phone flashlights trying to make sense of everything, but at the same time worrying that our phones were going to get destroyed and have no way to communicate.

I reached down to touch my leg because at first I was afraid that the bone had pierced my skin. I was relieved that it hadn’t. Corey tried to help me up, but I screamed. I couldn’t move.

A new sense of panic came over us. The quickly rising water couldn’t have been 15 feet away from us. I imagined myself crawling in pain trying to get away from it. I mentally prepared myself for the reality that was setting in. “What are we going to do?” Corey asked in panic. Not understanding the gravity of our situation I told him to call 911. Surely there was someone out there that could rescue us.

Corey called 911. “I’m sorry we can’t get to you. You’re going to have to just sit tight.” I’m not sure what we thought they could do. The only bridge to our house was completely covered in water, and getting higher by the minute.

We decided the next best course of action was to get the kids up the hill to safety and see if there was help for me too. Corey took our 2 year old first thinking he could get up there quickly while carrying her. The most surreal moment of the entire experience was when I was sitting there on the hillside, the girls were crying and scared, and I was consoling them. Telling them that we were going to be okay. That God had us and was going to take care of us. They were cold and shivering with the rain still pounding down on us. They were scared to be separated from their dad and were yelling out for him. I told them to go under the trees to shelter themselves from the rain. I couldn’t go to them, and I certainly didn’t want them to come any closer to me. Closer to the water.

I remember in that moment this sense of letting go and of calm. I had absolutely no control of this situation. No amount of panic was going to change or help things. God gave me the peace to be what my girls needed from me.

After a bit of time, Corey came back for the other girls. They were scared to leave me, but I was so thankful to know that there was shelter for them and they were going to be safe.

For what seemed like a long time I sat on the hillside alone. The sound of rain pouring, and dumpsters, trees, our car, and whatever other debris was in the water all crashing together. I saw our van headlights come on in the distance.

I kept my phone under my arm to keep the rain from destroying it, but occasionally taking it out to use my flashlight and make sure the water wasn’t getting too close.

When Corey came back down the hill to get me he had a walker in his hands. I thought that surely he would be coming back with a side by side or a 4-wheeler to assist me in getting up the hill. “This is all they had.” He said. “I can’t get up.” I told him. He came over to me and tried to lift me up again, but pain shot through my ankle and all the way up to my knee. I screamed again.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” I told him. I decided that if I could somehow stabilize my ankle then I could possibly get on the walker and move. I took my shirt off to tie my ankle with. I was barely able to bend toward my ankle because of the pain. I was trying to direct Corey how to tie a knot because he was so shaken he couldn’t remember how. He began to cry. “I’m so sorry this is happening. I’m so sorry this happened to you.” We had a moment of holding each other and I told him it was okay. We were going to be okay.

I found the strength to tie up my leg, but because of the rain and the amount of water in my shirt, it only weighed my leg down more. I took it off and decided that I was going to have to get up on the walker and get to my kids. That was the only thing that mattered.

Corey supported my arms and lifted me. Every single step was a shooting pain. There was a gym next to our house that we made it up to. Also halfway covered in water, but it was further up on the hill and I was able to lean against it. Corey told me that he was going to go again and see if there was anything else our neighbors could do to help.

I stayed there on the walker waiting for him.

I heard a side by side trying to start up and backfiring multiple times. I hoped that it would start and that they would come back for me, but it never did.

Corey came back, breathless, to tell me that it wouldn’t start and that this was our only option. The rest of our trek included a small hillside, some walking on flat ground, and then a small hill.

I hopped as far as I could with Corey supporting my arm until it was too steep for the walker. Corey threw the walker ahead onto the flat ground, got on his hands and feet, and I got on his back for him to climb us up. It was such a relief to be past that point. It was flat ground now. We could do this.

I got back on the walker. We saw our neighbor coming too. He had parked his truck at the bottom of the small hill leading up to his house so that he could drive us from that point. A few hundred feet later, we were at his truck and I was incredibly relieved. I was shocked to see a swirling vortex at the bottom of this hill. He had to back his truck the rest of the way up because there was nowhere to turn around.

A few steps hopping up to the house, and I was finally reunited with my girls. They were okay. We were all okay and together. There was a moment of trying to figure everything out. Where were we going to camp out until all of this was over? Our neighbors made a space for us in their living area. I had a couch with my leg propped up, and Corey and the girls had another couch.

I was still in my sports bra and jogging pants because I had left my shirt lying on the ground from where I was trying to tie up my leg. Our neighbor brought me a dry button up shirt. I had grabbed the diaper bag on the way out of our house to carry on my back, thankfully!, so I had a diaper for our 2 year old and a large shirt that was in there. The rest of us stayed in our wet clothes until they dried.

Don, and his wife Teresa (our neighbors) gave the girls snacks, me some Tylenol and Motrin, and Don- being a retired doctor- checked the pulse in my foot to make sure there was adequate blood flow.

Throughout the night, Corey kept checking the weather. I can’t remember how many times I asked him if it had stopped raining yet. But every time the answer was no.

The girls dozed a bit, but Corey and I never slept.

When daylight started to break, the rain stopped too. Now we were monitoring the water levels.

They were slowly going down. And finally it was down enough for Corey to walk back to our house to see the damage. 

When he came back I asked him how it was. “It got up over 5 feet in the house. We have nothing.”

“How are you? Are you okay?” I asked him. I knew it had to be hard to see our home like that. He responded that he was okay. Our one and only care was that we were all together and we were safe. Neither of us mourned our home or belongings in that moment.

He told me that there was a gas line in the front yard and that the house smelled like natural gas. Not long after, we began to smell natural gas at our neighbors house too. We began to fear for our safety yet again. Corey called the gas company and they recommended that we evacuate as soon as possible. The bridge was still covered in water but it was beginning to go down.

Corey called my dad and told him the water on the bridge was going down and to come on to get us. We were hoping by the time he and my mom got there, that we could get out.

The bridge was covered in debris. Don, Teresa, and Corey all went out to clear the bridge.

The girls had finally all fell asleep and I was again alone with my thoughts.

Soon, a friend, Sarah Kate, arrived inside. It was so nice to see a familiar face. SO nice. She was thanking God that we were all okay. It hadn’t yet occurred to me what so many other people must have experienced too. She had been just across the way at Corey’s work, The Hindman Settlement School, and had a harrowing experience herself.

Corey had walked over there to get some machinery to move all of the debris. He recalled to me later that upon seeing him everyone began to cry. Seeing the devastation, they all thought the worst. Sarah, along with another kind man who had been staying at the Settlement School for an event, had came back over with him to help.

“Your parents are here.” Sarah told me. “Let’s get you out.” She took Lucy in a blanket and the I got on my walker while the girls followed me to the door.

Corey was out there and helped me and the girls into Don’s truck. I saw my dad outside. He has a way of making even the hardest moments lighthearted, and I felt so comforted by talking to him. It was a really short drive from the bottom of the hill to the bridge, but there was a lot of debris to dodge. I looked around and was utterly shocked by what I saw.

The truck was still unable to get past the bridge debris. My dad took the girls, and Sarah Kate and this kind man pushed me in a wheelchair across the bridge to safety.

I hadn’t cried a single tear until this moment, but the relief of being there with my family, being safe, and the gravity of everything that had happened all washed over me at once. I sat in the front seat of my parents’ SUV and broke down.

There were so many people out, and it took me a minute to realize that people were just out surveying the damage. There was debris all over the road and people picking through it. Trying to find treasure among the remnants of people’s homes that had been torn apart only hours prior. It made me sick.

My parents took our girls to their house and Corey drove me to the hospital in their vehicle.

They found only one break and wanted to do surgery, but I wanted a second opinion. They splinted my leg and we came back to my parents’ for the night.

I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for my family, and my best friends for being there immediately. They did everything for us. They fed us, clothed us, brought anything and everything we would need. Truly, grateful doesn’t even touch it.

When I woke up the next morning I was dizzy and sick with pain. The adrenaline from the previous day was gone, and the intensity of the injury caught up with my body. The splint felt like a bag of bricks on my leg. I knew I had to get to the hospital again, but I could barely get out of my chair without fainting. I was crying and my body was trying to black out, but I made it to the vehicle. Every single bump in the road on the way to Lexington was agonizing.

I finally got to the hospital, pain medicine, and diagnosed with a spiral tibia/fibula fracture that would require surgery with a rod and screws.

I had to wait out the weekend for my surgery on Monday. The worst part of the entire experience was when they had to do a long leg splint on my leg and “set” it into place. I screamed so loud that afterward the ER was silent. I have never, ever experienced pain like that and I hope I never do again.

Corey was my strength and did everything for me, from emotional support, making sure I had water, to washing my hair, and everything in between.

It was so hard to be separated from the girls after something so traumatic. We just all wanted to be together and try to move forward. After 5 days we got to be with them again. The joy to hold them. I had never been a night without my 2 year old before.

The road to recovery has been hard to put it lightly. I would say equal amounts of physical and emotional pain. There were so many ups and downs it was dizzying.

Family and friends who are like family is absolutely everything. There is bad in this world, but so much good. There were so many people who stepped up to help us, and brought us to tears so many times. From family, to closest friends, to strangers. God provided for us in so many ways. He kept us safe that night. He got us out. He made a way.

I finally feel like we are on the other side, 6 months later. We are in a place of healing, of renewal, and we have a fresh start.

The events of July 28th, 2022 will always be a part of our story. I hope there is a day that I can think back on it without being shaken to my core. We have been haunted by the “what ifs”, and there are so many of them. We thank God daily that there wasn’t a different outcome for us. Although it altered our lives deeply, there are so many silver linings for us- and for that I am so thankful. There really is good that can come from the bad, there is a calm after the storm, and there is hope.

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