Saturday, May 29, 2004

Three killed in Kentucky storms

High winds, rain prompt a state of emergency

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

Storms that swept through the northern portion of Kentucky and dumped heavy rains caused flooding that killed three men in Lewis County, state police said Friday.

Three men riding in a truck died after the vehicle was swept away by flooding late Thursday night in the northwestern part of the county.

A woman in the truck was still missing Friday evening, said Ryan Hull, a state police dispatcher who also worked on the rescue team that found the bodies.

Jason Heater, Jason Reed and Brent Lewis, all of Vanceburg, were found by rescue workers in the Crooked Creek area of Lewis County, Hull said. Heater's brother, Josh Heater, survived the incident with only minor injuries. The men's' ages were not available Friday evening, but Hull said they were all in their late teens or early 20s.

The Chevrolet pickup truck they were riding in was swept away at about midnight Thursday when Crooked Creek swelled with water, Hull said.

"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

Hull said the bodies were found within 150 yards of each other, and the truck was found about 11/2 miles from the point where it was swept up by water.

Hull said workers were continuing sweeps of the creek as daylight faded on Friday.

Across Kentucky, storm damage stretched from Daviess County in the west to central Kentucky, including Lexington. Across the Ohio River, storms also pounded southern Indiana. An apparent tornado damaged homes northwest of Louisville that were then struck by a flash flood Thursday night.

The National Weather Service dispatched survey teams to determine whether the damage was caused by tornadoes or straight-line winds, said meteorologist Robert Szappanos in Louisville.

Henry County officials reported that an F-2 tornado and a line of 70-mile per hour winds destroyed parts of the county Thursday night.

Twenty-three homes in the county were completely destroyed, and another 86 had major damage, according to a statement from the county's Disaster and Emergency Services. As of 5 p.m. on Friday, about 3,300 homes were without electric power. No serious injuries were reported in the county.

Henry County resident Mike Purvis became sick to his stomach Friday when he surveyed heaps of metal where five greenhouses stood before the storms hit.

"It seems like you struggle and struggle, and something like this comes along and it puts you on your can immediately," said Purvis, who works at the greenhouse owned by his brother-in-law.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher declared a state of emergency. State officials had not released preliminary damage estimates by Friday afternoon.

In Daviess County, several dozen homes were damaged and at least two people injured, said Walter Atherton, the county's deputy emergency management director. Hundreds of people remained without power, he said. The hardest-hit communities included Stanley and Yelvington.

In Lexington, the storm tore roofs off homes in neighborhoods on the city's west and north sides.

The storms also produced heavy rains that flooded creeks. High water and downed trees temporarily blocked some roads.

In Henry County, Judge-Executive John Brent predicted the damage would reach into the millions of dollars.

Eminence Fire Chief Gary Lucas said the storm damaged at least three-quarters of the homes in town. "There's not a street in town that does not have trees down, homes damaged, lines down," he said.

The storm ripped the roof off three downtown businesses in Eminence. Part of a roof was tossed across the street to an auto dealership parking lot. A small section was wrapped around a pickup truck for sale.

Jeff Browning, general manager of Browning Pontiac-Chevrolet, said four vehicles on the lot were badly damaged and a dozen had scratches.

At the high school football field, the storm shattered the press box. Both dugouts on the baseball field were destroyed. The scoreboard slumped onto the ground. Nearby, a tree was toppled onto a Head Start building.

"We'll fix it all back," said David Baird, superintendent of Eminence Independent school district. "It will be just as good as new."

The Louisville area was soaked by up to 4 inches of rain on Wednesday and Thursday. The heavy rain delayed the first two days of play at the Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla.

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