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Looking back on the floods in Kentucky that killed 45 and displaced many

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Recent floods in Kentucky were less bad than one year ago. Those earlier floods left 45 people dead as rivers and creeks overflowed across a wide region of the state. This is a hilly region, part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, and, in it, many people live in the valleys, the lowlands, the flatlands, the lands alongside the streams. After last year's floods, some people moved to higher ground, while others decided to stay where they were. Stan Ingold from member station WEKU reports.

STAN INGOLD, BYLINE: Sherry Mullins vividly remembers trying to get to her house after visiting a relative a year ago. She couldn't reach it and realized her son and husband were inside.

SHERRY MULLINS: There was water. It looked like two rivers on each side of my house, and there was no way for them to get out of there. It was - you know, they were just trapped.

INGOLD: There was little she could do as the creek that ran near her home became a raging river.

MULLINS: So I just stood there, and I watched, like, the neighbors' houses go down the stream. And you could hear it. Like, it would, like, hit the top of our house. It was, like, screeching, you know, as it passed.

INGOLD: Two storms had stalled over eastern Kentucky and dumped massive amounts of rain over several days. Mullins and her husband have since moved to a new home a few miles away and on much higher ground, but she still gets upset when the weather starts to turn.

MULLINS: Not really an anxious person, but, you know, it just brings it all back. And, like, when it storms or if it rains really hard, you know, it's like I'm just like a nervous - just, like, pace like a cat in a cage.

BETTY NOBLE: It was horrible.

INGOLD: Betty Noble also vividly remembers the flood. The 77-year-old was Mullins' neighbor, but she decided to stay in her home once it was repaired. And it hasn't been easy, she says.

NOBLE: It's been a long, hard road. It's been a long year. It really has. But we're beginning to come back.

INGOLD: To help people move, the Federal Emergency Management Agency teamed up with the state government to work on a voluntary buyout program. FEMA's Myra Shird says over 500 people initially expressed interest in selling.

MYRA SHIRD: And there are folks that are saying, yes, I want to stay. But we have found that more are thinking about, hey, I would like to move. And they're thinking about it.

MULLINS: ...Side of the house, so it survived.

INGOLD: Mullins and Noble were thinking about selling their properties to the state to become greenspace, but ultimately decided not to. For Mullins, the roots on her creekside land run too deep.

MULLINS: We were offered that option, but our property on River Caney was land that had been handed down, that were settled in the 1700s. And that is our - was my parents' heritage, you know?

NOBLE: Trying to get everything put back together.

INGOLD: And for Noble, there are just too many memories. So in her mind, selling wasn't an option.

NOBLE: I've had my children. And then my husband passed away here, and now he's buried just down the road here. So we want to - I wanted to stay at my home because I'm just too old to change it.

INGOLD: Outside in her yard, she's replaced many of the animals that she lost in the flood. You can also see where landslides cleared portions of the hillsides around her home. She worries about what will happen if heavy rains come again.

NOBLE: We're back in the house, but we're scared. We're still scared. It still comes back sometimes.

INGOLD: But fear is not enough reason for these eastern Kentuckians to leave despite the flood dangers. A year later, FEMA has made offers on only about 240 properties that had flooded, but many residents are still choosing to stay.

For NPR News, I'm Stan Ingold in Lost Creek, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDY THORN'S "AESOP MOUNTAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stan Ingold