‘Dire situation’: Kayaker who helped in Kentucky flood rescues on difficult recovery ahead

Courtesy Larry Adams

(NEW YORK) — Once he saw how much water had risen in the creek by his home in eastern Kentucky, “I knew we were in trouble,” Larry Adams said.

His fears were warranted — the region suffered historic flooding late last month that left dozens dead and hundreds displaced after their homes were swept away or buried in debris. A yearslong recovery is expected as communities begin to clean up, and officials have warned more victims may be recovered.

“There are a lot of people who are suffering here,” Adams, 47, told ABC News recently. “It’s a dire situation.”

“We’re getting help, but we need a lot more help,” he said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Adams grew up in Whitesburg, Kentucky, which saw significant flooding during last month’s storms. He now lives about 10 miles away where his home was not impacted by the flooding, but still has family in the area.

On July 28, as floodwaters surged through his hometown and blackouts made it difficult to contact people, Adams grabbed his kayak and GoPro camera and went out to find his family.

“I knew what the water must have been like there,” he said.

As he paddled through the floodwaters, he said he saw his uncle on one rooftop and then his cousin’s teenage daughter and her dog on another. In a now viral rescue, which he captured on his GoPro camera, Adams helped pull his cousin’s daughter, who had held out for hours on the roof of a garage with her dog, to dry land.

He was also able to rescue four other family members.

Adams, who runs a martial arts school and had picked up whitewater kayaking during the pandemic, continued to rescue others from their flooded homes, especially where the significant debris made it difficult to reach people by motorized boat.

Adams said he couldn’t count how many people in total he helped rescue from the floods. He only wished he could have aided those for whom help came too late.

At least 37 people died in the flooding, including four young siblings — ages 2, 4, 6 and 8 — who were swept away in the water, according to family members.

Hundreds of displaced people are taking shelter at state parks, shelters and tractor trailers more than a week after the flooding began.

“It’s going to take years to rebuild,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said last week. “People left with absolutely nothing. Homes that we don’t know where they are.”

Adams said he is now helping his family in Whitesburg clean up from the flooding. Among the debris, he said he’s seen over a foot of mud on the kitchen counters.

“They’re good, healthy, but the loss is significant,” he said.

People have lost their cars and don’t have access to food and other necessities, and communities are in desperate need of supplies and feet on the ground to help clean up, he said.

“We’re resilient people here, you have to be. But this is a whole lot to ask of anyone,” he said. “It feels like a bad dream.”

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