Governor Beshear flew into the Middlesboro Bell County Airport early Tuesday morning to survey the damage and bring a message of gratitude and hope to his constituents affected by the flood. The governor first congratulated state and federal rescue teams and employees of the coal company for their work in safely retrieving the three men that spent 14 hours trapped underground as a result of the storms.
“That could have been a real disaster, as we know, and because of your all’s fast response and the efforts that you made, it turned out as well as it could have,” Beshear said.
Employees of the mine, Jellico Mine No. 1, operated by Bell County Coal and owned by James River Coal, were present and reported that their co-workers were doing well.
The dialogue then turned to plans for repairing the damage in and around Middlesboro. Beshear toured damaged areas of the city with State Representative Rick Nelson and Middlesboro Mayor Bill Kelley Tuesday morning. Nelson said that the flooding was the worst he has seen since he moved to the city in the 1970s.
“It breaks my heart. We toured most of the areas this morning and a lot of people have been affected,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be with you emotionally and physically for a long time.”
Steve Ward with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was present at the press conference held by Beshear at the Middlesboro Civic Center. FEMA representatives were already in Kentucky taking care of prior weather damage and have arrived in Middlesboro to assess the damage.
“We anticipate that we will be able to gather the data very quickly, very rapidly... and have the assessment completed so that it can go to the president for a separate declaration in this case,” Ward announced.
He said that assessment teams will be in communities affected by the flood waters in the coming days. Ward recommended that home and business owners document repair work of flood damage with pictures to provide for officials.
A representative from the state’s emergency mine management was also at the conference and reported that efforts are being coordinated among the state and volunteer agencies to relieve some of the burden from the governments of damaged cities and counties.
Tom Napier, who oversees the district that includes Bell County for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, spoke about the efforts of the state in repairing roads. Napier said that crews will arrive from other Kentucky counties to assist with repairs and explained that the state will utilize rental agreements to provide the necessary equipment to complete repairs.
“Its going to take some time to get it back in the shape that it used to be in, but these roads will be open and we’ll be able to have traffic on them,” Napier asserted.
There will be some delays on roads, he added, and the repairs should be completed within a month.
Representative Nelson and Mayor Kelley both thanked the governor for his visit and the assistance of his office. Both indicated that they were pleased with the state’s response to the need in Bell County. Kelley also responded to a question about the Middlesboro flood project, when asked whether it functioned properly during Monday’s storm.
“It did work successfully,” the mayor answered. “It’s just with the amount of water we had, everything was a slow process.”
Governor Beshear pointed out that although the area has seen a lot of property damage, it was fortunate that there was only one fatality in Kentucky due to the hazardous weather. He also pledged continued support for the flood victims.
“Now its going to be our job to be here on the ground with the people here in these six counties. And I can assure you that we will be until we get things cleaned up and get people back in their homes and back in their businesses,” he vowed.
Lorie Settles is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. She may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.