PHOTO: provided by Brenda Cockerham
Brenda Cockerham said she’s lived in Johnson County for more than 27 years and she’s never seen anything like the recent floodwaters that rushed through the county streets like raging rivers. Cockerham and her colleagues at the Johnson County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service jumped right in to help.
“We serve on a committee of several service agencies and volunteers,” said Cockerham, who serves as the county’s family and consumer sciences extension agent. “We actually established a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation after the last tornado emergency, so we were able to spring into action fairly quickly when disaster struck.”
UKAg meteorologist Matt Dixon said the Kentucky Mesonet Station in Paintsville indicated the area received more than 13 inches of rain in the past 30 days.
“Looking at radar data, we can see that some areas of Johnson County received between 5 and 8 inches of rain in the past week, much of that coming July 13,” Dixon said. “With the amount of recent rain in Eastern Kentucky, on already-saturated grounds, it didn’t take much for flash flooding to occur.”
One of the hardest communities hit was Flat Gap, where homes were seen floating and falling apart as the floodwater carried them away. Cockerham said people can’t get in and out of that hardest hit area due to road damage.
“We have a group of Extension Homemakers in the Red Bush community who are working on the other side of the road break to help get supplies in to people there,” she said. “Communication is difficult as water, electric and Internet services are down in that community, and other parts of the county as well.”
As of July 16, at least three people had died and one was still missing. Johnson County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, Brian Jeffiers, has been on the front lines overseeing operations in the search for missing persons.
“As extension agents, we know the county very well,” he said. “I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve been here for about 19 years, and I know a lot about the county roads, and I know a lot of people. Most importantly, we want to find the people who are missing. We’re also focusing on the other needs of our neighbors and clients who will need our help to put their lives back together.”
Johnson County 4-H youth development extension agent, Dianna Reed, has been working with a team of volunteers and Johnson Central High School. They are getting supplies like water, food and hygiene products to victims.
“Some of our 4-H’ers have already given some of their own money to help their friends and neighbors who are now flood victims,” she said.
Once the waters fully recede, Cooperative Extension will still be around to help the community. Cockerham is working with the Long Term Recovery Committee. They receive funding from partner agencies to cover case managers who handle each situation.
“Eventually Red Cross, FEMA and insurance funds will taper off, and we will focus on any unmet needs in the county,” she said. “We’ll meet monthly with case managers and review each recommendation they have, and when their recommendations require money, we’ll turn to the funds people have donated to help people. The damage here is already equal to the damage we had during the tornadoes a few years ago, and it may end up being worse.”
Cockerham said the committee has already met, and they are preparing for a long challenge ahead. The committee has representatives from UK Cooperative Extension, Community Action Program, the Christian Appalachian Project and Red Cross, among others.
Johnson County Extension Homemakers also have a small fund earmarked for such emergencies, and the agents may use that to provide further assistance.
“Cooperative Extension exists to make communities better,” said Jimmy Henning, associate dean and director of the UK Cooperative Extension Service. “This is a perfect example of our agents just doing their job. We are experienced at engaging a lot of volunteers, and that can turn into quite an army in times like these. We’re very proud of their commitment to their clients, who are also their neighbors.”
Cockerham said they are accepting donations. Contact the Johnson County Extension office to learn about specific ways to help or donate, 606-789-8108.
Brian Jeffries, Brenda Cockerham, Dianna Reed, 606-789-8108