Update: Officials say those evacuated can return to their homes; Hwy. 15 determined safe to drive

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Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 2:15 PM EST
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Update (3/3/2021): Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and experts with the Energy and Environment Cabinet determined that Kentucky 15 within the Panbowl situation in Jackson is safe to drive on Wednesday morning. Personnel remained at the scene overnight to monitor the situation; engineers say that the road and overflow is now stable, they also say conditions are improving as the river level continues to fall.

Community members who were evacuated in the area may return if the water is low enough and roads are back open.

KYTC and Energy and Environment Cabinet evaluated the condition of the dam and highway Tuesday afternoon and determined that placing sandbags would stop the reverse flow of water from the river into the lake. The sandbags would also divert the river current away from the dam.

Original (3/2/2021): Breathitt County Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation for people living in the Lakeside and Brewers Trailer Court areas according to a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s really heartbreaking it is. When people come to you and they tell you they’ve lost everything and they have nowhere to go,” said Jackson Mayor Laura Thomas.

A slide created a small leak, so the North Fork of the Kentucky River started to slowly trickle into the area in front of the Jackson Inn. The flooding this past weekend caused the North Fork of the Kentucky river to rise, creating pressure that is pushing through the dam.

“The elevation of this lake is controlled by the elevation of that river. However high the North Fork gets has a lot to do with how high the lake elevation gets,” said Corbett Caudill, chief district 10 engineer.

Highway 15 is basically a dam between the river and Panbowl Lake. Evacuations have been completed but are currently suspended.

The hospital and nursing homes were evacuated and about 1,000 people who lived in the horseshoe of the lake were also asked to leave. This was out of an abundance of caution after officials noticed reports of water running through a roughly 25-foot long “pop-out” slip beneath the embankment.

“That woman came by hollering, ‘Get out! Get out! You’re going to drown’ and she hollered at the whole trailer lot wanting us to get out,” said Rhonda Byrant who lives in one of the trailer parks that were evacuated.

The area had already flooded Sunday night, and continued to rise Tuesday morning. Bryant left with her daughter as the water rose up her front steps. '

“She said, ‘Mommy don’t let me drown’ I said I ain’t going to and it was over her head. I had to pack her out, and it was up to my waist,” said Byrant. “We didn’t get nothing out. We lost everything.”

Transpiration Cabinet engineers say the leak did not cause any significant rise to the flooded area.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet has two inspectors and a dam safety supervisor on site. Sandbags were placed along the areas that have eroded in an attempt to stop the flow of water under the highway.

“This is to temporarily put some back pressure on that water that’s coming through and as the North Fork recedes and goes down we’re thinking that water coming under the road is going to continue to diminish the amount of water coming under the road so we’ll have people here late into the afternoon monitoring it, so hopefully it will sort of take care of itself,” said Caudill,

Kentucky State Police, Fish and Wildlife, the Army National Guard along with all local fire and police crews were on the scene helping transportation officials fix the leak.

“Transportation officials and representatives from partner agencies have been on the scene monitoring the situation to ensure every appropriate action is taken to keep Kentuckians safe,” said Caudill. “Transportation Cabinet geotechnical and engineering experts are en route from Frankfort to survey conditions and advise on next steps.”

Officials say the dam is stable and there is no threat it will burst.

There are three shelters open in the area, Breathitt High School, Jackson City School and the Lee’s College Campus.

Experts from the Energy and Environment and Cabinet and KYTC determined that it is safe to maintain traffic on KY 15. Personnel will remain on the scene overnight to monitor the situation and close the road if it becomes necessary. The engineers feel that the situation has been stabilized. Conditions will improve as the river level continues to fall.

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