Assessing floodwater damage to homes in Woodford County, Mitigating future losses
As the Kentucky River rose and floodwaters began affecting residents
here after torrential rains in Eastern Kentucky last month, Woodford
County Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler and his team began
their rapid assessments of damage to residential structures.
Often, Chandler’s team members remain in their vehicles during
“dashboard assessments” to determine if floodwater is still in a
residence or if there’s a waterline in the residence, he said.
Along the Kentucky River, about 126 residential structures located in a
special flood hazard area could have potentially been impacted by the
March flood, according to Kenneth Johns, the county’s Geographic
Information System coordinator. Woodford County’s river communities
include Buck Run, Clifton and Shoreacres, Chandler said.
He said sixty-two residential structures were impacted by the March
flood. Of those, Pattie Wilson, the county’s certified floodplain
manager, said 20 sustained major damage.
A more detailed assessment is conducted to confirm there was damage to a
residence if that was uncertain during the initial assessment, Chandler
The information was given to Woodford County building inspector Josh
Stevens. He then determined if the damage was major or minor, or
destroyed the structure, Wilson said.
Stevens said he’s provided information about grants available to
homeowners who may need assistance based on the level of damage to the
residence. He’s also talked to some people and returned to further
assess the damage to their homes, he said.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of structural damage,” Stevens said during
an interview last week. “But I have seen a whole lot of (damage to)
drywall,” which will need to be replaced. More will be known after a
contractor assesses what needs to be repaired, he added.
Stevens said homeowners with substantial damage (equal to or exceeding
50 percent of the structure’s value) need to mitigate future losses.
Because every flood event is different, the number of homes impacted
varies, Chandler said. Significantly more homes in Woodford County were
impacted by the 2010 flood because the Kentucky River crested at a
higher level – two to three feet higher – than the most recent event, he
Chandler agreed that mitigation actions undertaken by a homeowner can
lessen the damage to their residences in future flooding events.
“The whole idea is to get people out of harm’s way,” Wilson explained.
“You can either get them above (the base flood elevation) or move them
In 2015, Woodford County government secured grant dollars to buy six
residential structures in the special flood hazard area, Chandler said.
“We ended up only buying two of the six,” he continued. “Either because
these residents had unrealistic expectations of what fare market value
was or, in one case, the family said, ‘We just can’t imagine living
anywhere else.’ So they declined.
“But the two structures that we did buy, there’s nobody there to be
flooded any more.”
Overall, Chandler described Woodford County residents who live along the
Kentucky River as “pretty resilient.” They know how to get out of harm’s
way and do whatever it takes so it’s less costly for them to stay or get
back in their homes after a flood, Wilson said.
Chandler said he knows of only three families who actually left their
homes and didn’t return until floodwaters receded.
“As I was knocking on doors,” added Stevens, “there was already fans
going and people mopping things up. You kind of get the vibe that
they’ve been there for awhile. So they kind of get the gist of what it
was like to clean up after” a flood.
Because Woodford County participates in the National Flood Insurance
Program, residents are eligible to receive up to $30,000 in Increased
Cost of Compliance Coverage (ICC) to bring a structure up to compliance,
Wilson said. ICC coverage pays for demolishing, relocating and elevating
Several residential structures in Woodford County have been elevated in
the past. A new foundation is constructed to raise a home high enough so
it’s out of harm’s way when flooding occurs.
“When you elevate a house,” said Wilson, “you also elevate the HVAC
unit.” She said a hot water heater and electrical systems are also
elevated “above the established base flood elevation.”
People can further mitigate the chances of flooding (and reduce flood
insurance costs) by building a home at a higher elevation than the base
flood elevation established by FEMA, Wilson said. “So they may still
have to carry flood insurance, but the higher you are above the base
flood elevation, the lower your insurance is going to be,” she explained.
“To make Woodford County more safe,” she said, “we actually add a
one-foot surcharge to that base flood elevation.”
Some residential structures are not candidates to be elevated, according
to Chandler. “Sometimes,” added Stevens, “it is cheaper to demolish than
(it is) to rebuild.
In 2017, floodplain maps in Woodford County were updated, according to
Wilson. However, she noted that no updates to those maps had occurred
from 1978 until a major update in 2012.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters hitting New Orleans
in 2005, a huge amount of federal dollars were allocated to re-evaluate
flood zones across the country and update mapping, Wilson said. This new
study information from the Army Corps of Engineers about the Kentucky
River in 2012 and 2017 included updated maps for flood-prone areas in
Woodford County, she said.
The level of damage to a structure is dependent in part on whether water
got into a living space – and not a crawlspace, Chandler said. However,
if a subsequent homeowner puts flooring and drywall in what they
perceive as an “unfinished basement,” the cleanup involves much more
than “mucking out the mud,” he said.
Chandler said the age and type of structure also plays a role in the
amount of damage.
For example, mobile homes built prior to 1976, “if it gets wet, it’s
destroyed. It’s not that extreme, but mobile homes pre-’76 don’t fare
well (after being flooded),” Chandler said.
As Woodford County’s certified floodplain manager, Wilson is responsible
for determining if a property is located in a special flood hazard area
when someone wants to build a home near the Kentucky River, a stream or
Anyone wanting to build in a special flood hazard area has to go through
a very detailed review process, Wilson explained. Construction isn’t
allowed in the flood way, but permits are issued allowing someone to
build in “the fringe” of a special flood hazard area, she said.
Wilson said she oversees development, including demolition, new
construction as well as underground pipe and grading work in special
flood hazard areas. Those areas encompass 5 percent or 6,200 acres in
Woodford County, according to the updated 2018 Comprehensive Plan.
That’s because of the Kentucky River’s many tributaries – creeks and
Lees Branch flows through Midway and puts a large portion of the city in
a special flood hazard area, Wilson said.
In the aftermath of Woodford County’s March flood, when the Kentucky
River crested at 40.2 feet (ninth highest in recorded history), Chandler
said, “I’ve been trying to avoid the stream gauge …” He noted the river
crested at 48-and-a-half feet in 1978 – a historic high.
Because the Kentucky River flows north, torrential rain in Eastern
Kentucky begins to cause flooding here in about 36 hours or so, Chandler
Data from the March flood is sent to the state and then to the federal
government seeking a Presidential Emergency Declaration, which will
dictate whether any aid is allocated to impacted Woodford County
residents, Chandler explained. FEMA was already scheduled to be in
Eastern Kentucky this month because of the late-winter ice storm, which
preceded the flooding rains. “So their mission changed from ice storm
damage assessments to ice storm and flooding” assessments, said Chandler.
“The volume of our losses (in Woodford County),” he added, “it just
pales in comparison to the destruction (inflicted on) our neighbors to
In an email, Wilson wrote, “I hope the story will encourage others to
reach out to us about mitigation!”
One of 77 certified floodplain managers in the state, Wilson has had the
certification since 2006, she said. She added this from the Association
of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM): “The ASFPM national certified
floodplain manager program was established in 1998 to create a baseline
testing of professional competence in floodplain management. The program
requires passing an exam and then continuing education credits annually
to maintain certification … the floodplain management program is
continually evolving and the knowledge and performance of local, state,
federal and private-sector floodplain management professionals is ever