Helping our Neighbors in Eastern Kentucky

“You can’t appreciate the magnitude of what’s happened until you see it, really see it.”

Louisville Water’s Director of Water Quality and Research Pete Goodmann sighed as he described what he and other Louisville Water employees saw in eastern Kentucky last week. When disaster strikes in Kentucky, helping hands and hearts aren’t far behind. Torrential flooding on July 28 killed at least 37 people in eastern Kentucky, swept away homes, and left thousands of people with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Many towns are reeling from the devastation, trying to figure out how to restore basic services we often take for granted. That includes access to clean drinking water.

Last week, a crew from Louisville Water loaded up and headed to Hazard in Perry County. Joining Goodmann were Director of District Operations Joe Schmitt, Manager of Security & Emergency Preparedness Brad Hart, and Manager of Engineering MRRP Pat Howard.

Our team went to eastern Kentucky after we received a call for help from Kentucky’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network. Known as KYWARN, the organization helps coordinate emergency relief efforts and dispatch qualified personnel.

The first assignment for Louisville Water’s crew was assessment. The four met with Hazard utility employees looking at maps of the service area. Then they took off into Perry County, slowly driving through thick mud and debris, and down hollers and over mountains to find broken or exposed water mains.

Goodmann says the Hazard team’s knowledge of their system was instrumental in helping our team know where to look. Even though there is enormous destruction, the pipes along the main roads were not in horrible shape. However, as the team traveled up into the hollers, they saw pipes washed away and some literally hanging along the road. The rushing water pouring from the mountains and rising from the creeks filled the hollers, eroding and breaking off the pipes.

After the team members found a leak or exposed pipe, they would mark it for repair. Later, they tried to identify valves that would help restore service if the water main was operational.

Along the way, our employees worked with a team from Oldham County Water District.

“My guys were so glad to collaborate with the Louisville Water folks,” said Russ Rose, general manager of Oldham County Water District. “Three-and-a-half hours from home and neighbors worked together to help others.”

Rose also drove a large tank to hold water from Arkansas, on loan from National Rural Water. The Louisville Water and Oldham County teams are part of a coalition of state and national responders.

A local non-profit, WaterStep is also working near Hazard. WaterStep set up its WOW (Water on Wheels) carts, which are mobile water treatment systems. Another Louisville Water employee, Tim Meyer, stepped in to help WaterStep set up the system.

It will take months to rebuild the infrastructure, just as hundreds will deal with their own tragedies. Even employees of the Hazard Water Department lost their homes.

Goodmann said one employee described how he and his wife climbed a mountain to escape the floods. In a show of resiliency of the eastern Kentucky region, Goodmann says the employee met him with a smile when they arrived in Hazard.

“It was long days, but the most satisfying part was interacting with the people in eastern Kentucky,” Goodmann said. “The people who have been impacted are polite and thankful.”

Our team returned to Louisville over the weekend. Although the break didn’t last long for Pat Howard, who already returned to eastern Kentucky. He’s continuing to work on assessment with Hazard utility leaders and Oldham County Water. Joe Schmitt is also heading back and depending on the next steps, we could send additional resources.

“It was an honor to work alongside these guys,” Goodmann said of the group he traveled with from Louisville Water. “We did some good work.”

But the work is far from over. To put it in perspective, Hart said, “I’ve done two tours in Iraq, but what I saw in eastern KY was overwhelming. I still have trouble comprehending.”

If you are interested in donating to the flood relief efforts, visit the following websites: