On the Front Lines of Flooding Recovery

Spending nearly 10 years in the U.S. Army and witnessing unimaginable devastation in the Middle East still didn’t prepare Brad Hart for what he encountered in the aftermath of deadly floods in eastern Kentucky.

“I saw an entire street with only foundations or cinder blocks left where homes had once been. I saw vehicles and household appliances piled up in areas along the creek like toys in my boys’ toybox. I saw parts of large houses next to roads and personal belongings hanging in trees. It was just complete devastation in the lower areas,” said Hart, Manager of Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Kentucky Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (KYWARN) requested Louisville Water’s help in Perry County. Within days, Hart packed his bags for the mission in Hazard, Kentucky. He joined Director of Distribution Operations Joe Schmitt, Manager of Engineering Main Replacement and Rehabilitation Program Pat Howard, and Director of Water Quality & Research Pete Goodmann.

The team’s first assignment: assessing the damage. It didn’t take long to see the catastrophic results of the torrential rains in late July. Roads buckled, even completely washed out in some areas, pipes unearthed, and broken or leaking pipes. It seemed overwhelming and the challenges were abundant, but Louisville Water’s team worked with several other utilities to start restoring water service.

Hart said, “I understand that getting multiple small teams with a highly specialized skill set to go into an area that they are not familiar with one day notice and have them work seamlessly together is a hard task. However, that is exactly what happened in Hazard. Teams were introducing themselves in Walmart parking lots and back country roads and then immediately working together to accomplish a unified goal. It was nothing short of incredible and serves as a testament to the immense skill and dedication of our water professionals across Kentucky.”

Using sticky notes and thumbtacks on a map, they plotted out the areas to survey. Once they knew what they were dealing with, officials created a plan to repair the water main system one pipe at a time.

While understandably anxious to have water again, it surprised Hart to find a common theme of residents asking how they could help those who came to help them.

“Lady lost her entire house and she’s like, ‘Thank you all so much. What can I do for you?’, Hart said in disbelief. “And it’s like you don’t need to do anything for us. You’re good, you know, we enjoy being down here and helping.”

Meeting the faces of those Hart and the team were helping is what made the mission personal for them.

“I met most of these people during what was potentially the worst week of their lives. You would’ve expected for a certain number of them to feel defeated or be a victim of their circumstances, but I did not meet one person there that showed anything other than strength and humility. They were so thankful for what the flood had spared, even when it was very little. I witnessed neighbors helping each other.”

It’s that resiliency, determination, and humbleness that Hart will not soon forget. He’s grateful for being a part of Louisville Water’s team and for Louisville Water’s commitment to helping fellow Kentuckians in need.

“This experience has given me a perspective on the human side of why these (emergency management) plans are so critical to the community. Water truly is life. The greatest irony of this entire story is that water created this disaster, but water will also serve as key to its recovery.”