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Kentucky Residents Recovering After Heavy Flooding

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Back-to-back ice and snowstorms knocked out power to thousands of homes in eastern Kentucky. Below-freezing temperatures lingered for days. Then came record-breaking rains, which pushed the Kentucky River out of its banks and into the town of Beattyville, Ky. As Corinne Boyer of member station WEKU reports, cleanup has started, but not for everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATORS HUMMING)

ALEXIS TOWNSEND: We used to have a counter right here, but we had to take it down because it was wood, and it would have molded and everything. So we just went ahead and took it down. And we're going to rebuild one up here.

CORINNE BOYER, BYLINE: That's Alexis Townsend. She manages the Los Two Brothers Mexican restaurant in Beattyville, Ky. Part of the restaurant sits high on support beams over the now-empty creek. Inside, Townsend points up to the waterline on part of a wall still standing. Water took out refrigerators and the restaurant's gas line. Once repairs began, a section of the flooring tumbled to the creek below.

TOWNSEND: I like my community, and I don't want to leave this restaurant. And I have high hopes that it won't happen again.

BOYER: The buzz of generators powering equipment echoes down the small mountain town's Main Street. A few days ago, six feet of water gushed through downtown. Local and state officials have called the flooding historic. Despite being just a few blocks from the river, some businesses will rebuild. But the resiliency won't help everyone recover immediately. Beattyville Mayor Scott Jackson says his biggest concern is for renters who lived in mobile homes.

SCOTT JACKSON: And I talked to the woman that owns a trailer court. And she owns five trailers. And she was saying that she wasn't going to replace them, she didn't think.

BOYER: After touring the town and surrounding areas by helicopter, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said getting federal help will take time.

ANDY BESHEAR: All in all, it takes about 30 days. But we're going to have FEMA on the ground here on Monday. They were going to be here for the ice and the snowstorm, and now they're going to be able to see this flooding damage firsthand.

BOYER: After the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, surveys damage, the president must declare a disaster before federal money is available. Michael Dossett is the director of the Division of Emergency Management.

MICHAEL DOSSETT: An individual that's renting a residence - there obviously is no recovery for repairs. But they may recover for personal items that are ruined due to flood.

BOYER: In the meantime, one couple is waiting in their front yard, unable to stay in their mobile home where they've lived for five years. Corina Hall and her husband live around the corner from downtown Beattyville. Floodwaters reached the couple's roof.

CORINA HALL: Crushes me - we lost everything that we have - everything.

BOYER: Water entered the couple's home so quickly they had to be rescued by boat. The flood submerged both of their cars. They haven't heard from their landlord. Hall says she plans to apply for FEMA aid. Around the corner, as private disaster cleanup crews work downtown, no one has checked on the couple or the two neighboring homes that were also flooded. Hall's husband Danny Spencer.

DANNY SPENCER: If I had 20- to $50,000 in the bank over here, I could get 50 more from them - from these local people. If I ain't got a bank account, I couldn't borrow $5 off none of them.

BOYER: Hall and Spencer are waiting to hear back from the Red Cross, hoping they'll soon have a temporary place to stay. The couple's home is one of an estimated few hundred destroyed by the floods.

For NPR News, I'm Corinne Boyer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.