“Turn around, don’t drown” was the advice Knox County Judge Executive Mike Mitchell gave after declaring a state of emergency in Knox County due to flooding.
“We’re in a preparedness stage here as far as looking out for the safety of Knox County residents and taking precautionary measures put in place,” said Mitchell on issuing the state of emergency.
Recent heavy rainfall has caused major flooding and travel issues for many in the Tri-County and surrounding areas.
Officials in Bell County also issued a state of emergency on Thursday. The city of Pineville closed one of its floodgates, as the Cumberland River was reported at 1,018.83 feet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Major flood stage for the river in Pineville is 1,019.0 feet and the National Weather Service predicted it would crest Thursday evening at 1,019.3 feet.
The flood of 1977 sits on the top of the list for historic crests of the Cumberland River in Pineville at 1,021.8 feet. The second highest crest was recorded March 18, 2002, at 1,017.32 feet, so Thursday's flooding had already surpassed it.
“We’re in contact with Bell County and counties above us because that’s where we’re getting all of our water,” said Mitchell.
The Cumberland River in Barbourville was reported at 35.22 feet on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Mitchell says there is no threat of water making its way into the city of Barbourville at this level, but also said that he and city officials are keeping an eye on the situation.
According to the NWS at 6:30 p.m, the river would crest at 39.5 feet on Friday.
The predicted crest level of the Cumberland River in Barbourville is considered major flooding as that stage occurs at 38 feet.
Mitchell says Barbourville officials aren’t planning on closing the city’s floodgates when he talked to The Times-Tribune Thursday afternoon.
“If we do close it, it’ll be to prevent people from driving out South 11 into water because as soon as you cross the bridge there, you’re going to be blocked,” he said.
Several of the Tri-County’s other roads have been closed and are impassable as a result of flooding as well.
Les Dixon with the Kentucky Highway of Transportation Cabinet, District 11 says that crews are out checking for high water on roads and putting out high water signs when needed.
“We also have crews that are currently out on different roadways performing slide repair operations and we have crews going throughout the district setting up portable message boards when needed,” Dixon added.
On Thursday, the Transportation Cabinet reported the following roadways closed in Knox County due to high water:
KY 6 mile points 0-1
KY 225 mile points 10-1
KY 3441 mile points 1-2
KY 1304 mile points 0-1
KY 3439 mile points 3-4
KY 459 mile points 3-5
KY 930 mile points 1-2
KY 718 mile points 1-2
KY 223 mile points 0-2 and 7-8
KY 1487 mile points 1-2
KY 3153 mile points 0-1
KY 11 mile points 3-6 and 12-13
KY 1527 mile points 2-3
KY 229 mile points 0-1
The following were closed in Whitley County on Thursday due to high water:
KY 1804 mile points 0.0-5.493
KY 2996 mile points 3.4-3.766
KY 1064 mile point 1.5
KY 92 mile point 31.776-32.399
U.S. 25W mile point 0.841
The Transportation Cabinet also announced that a portion of KY 92E from mile points 21.926 (Lawson Bend Road) to 22.926 (Reynolds Hill Drive) in Whitley County will be reduced to one lane as crews perform slide repair operations. The same is also true for a portion of KY 628 in Whitley County at mile point 4.8. Both projects are expected to be completed by 5 p.m. Friday evening.
“Road crews are working to clear trees that have slid and check flooded areas for damage. Many areas are still under water. PLEASE do not cross flooded roadways! You can’t tell by looking at the water if the road has been damage underneath and it can lead to life threatening situations. It is better to be safe than sorry,” wrote Whitley County Judge Executive Pat White Jr. on Facebook Thursday morning.
The Cumberland River in Williamsburg was reported at 28.26 feet at 6 p.m. Thursday. The NWS predicted it would crest at 33 feet Friday night or early Saturday morning. Major flood stage at that point of the river is 32 feet.
The flooding has also affected local schools, businesses and other organizations.
Whitley County School District closed due to flooding on Thursday and announced it will close Friday as well. Williamsburg Independent closed as well. Knox County Public Schools were already closed due to illness Wednesday through Friday. Union College also canceled its classes Thursday afternoon. Barbourville City Council cancelled its meeting that was set for 6 p.m. Thursday and moved it to next Thursday.
“We’ve got several areas that are blocked, we’ve got roads damaged. We can’t get to most of them to even see what the extent of the damage is right now, due to water and flooding,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell says there are some Knox County residents without water due to the flooding.
“We’ve had some line breakages, where roads have slid out and took water lines out that’s not able to be repaired right now. We’re securing water to help people on a temporary basis until the water service gets back on.”
Emergency personnel will distribute the water to those without access to clean water.
Mitchell also cautions those who travel over the next couple of days.
“It is bad,” he said. “We’ve had to send people out to rescue people and we’ve had numerous times that we’ve had to do that. It endangers the lives of first-responders and everything, to go pull them out of the water, and it’s really something that we shouldn’t be having to do.”