After the floods, Kentucky faces a new challenge: clean water

After the floods, Kentucky faces a new challenge: clean water

Portable drinking water has become vital in some parts of southeastern Kentucky. This area has destroyed much of the water delivery infrastructure due to devastating flash floods that killed at least 37 people and displaced hundreds.

"You can't clean anything without water," said Donald "Happy" Mobilini, mayor of Hazard, a city of about 5,000 people amid the floods.

Gallon jugs of water are just as ubiquitous as bottles. In recent days, tanker trucks full of water have been brought in, but the area needs more.

Once the donated water arrives, thousands of people who need it use it for bathing, drinking, and washing the thick mud coats that floodwaters have left on the insides of businesses, homes, and clothing.

After the torrential rains subsided last week, much of Hazard lacked electricity and running water. Over the past few days, electricity and water have been gradually restored. Mobilini said the seas for most of the province's southern side should be fixed by the end of the week.

But he said he could not give a timetable for when water would return for many of the county's remote rural communities, which have suffered much of the worst devastation.

"The pipes are gone," Mobilini said of those areas. "We have, for example, five teams from different cities here to help us with the assessment, but we will have to rebuild the entire infrastructure, so I don't know how long that will take."

"We are nowhere close to being cured," Mobilini said. "We need those big companies to step up and help with things other than water."

The region's rugged terrain may challenge reconstruction efforts. The small community of River Caney, which occupies a narrow valley in Trans Hazard County, is accessible by a single state highway.

Before the flood, a black road ran through much of the community. On Wednesday, large portions of this road looked like the surrounding hills had reclaimed it. Broken power lines hung low while wrecked cars, discarded awnings, and homes littered the side of the road. Cane Creek's almost turbid water was pouring down from a nearby hill.

Last week it rained so fast that Kanye Creek leaped onto its banks and carried some homes down the ravine. She said Lauren Noble's home was uprooted in flood, near the pile of concrete blocks where her home once was. Unlike the others, her house was visible but was just a few meters from the street and visibly damaged.

54-year-old Noble and her family struggled up a nearby hill that had become a muddy slide to escape the rushing current. They waited for the water to calm down, and she's been staying with her nephew since. However, she would come home daily, trying to determine what could be salvaged, sometimes using the creek's water which had caused so much damage.

"I take my things to the creek and wash them. The mud is that thick," said Noble, with her fingers a few inches apart.

Years ago, Noble said she and others in the community got their water from nearby wells. They did this until the water from their taps turned black. She blamed a nearby mining operation that removed layers of mountains to get to the coal beneath.

"When they light those shots in there, it spoils your whole house," Noble said, adding that they have since switched to piped public water, which the community has been without since last week.

Noble said she had not heard anything specific about when water service will return.

Strangers have passed over and over again recently, handing out jugs and water containers. Noble said some of her neighbors who stayed used her for bathing and cleaning. Others move ice bags to help keep milk and eggs in coolers.

"They will go back," Noble said. "We're not giving up here. I won't give up. I'm going home. I think everyone who comes back here will tell you that."

Others became creative to meet the new water needs of their community. The Hindman Settlement School has revived a more autonomous water delivery system in the city of Hindman, in the hard-hit Knott County.

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