Article by Ron Hamblin – Photos by Ron Hamblin, David Leveridge & Blaine Combs
Blaine Combs a 40 year resident of Dwarf Kentucky, who lives within 50 feet of a creek, says as long as his has lived in his home, the highest the water ever got was in his basement by a couple feet. Blaine said when it would start to flood, he would move his cars and equipment to the front of his brick home.
Somehow this storm just felt different. The late night storm was getting worse and rain was not letting up.
As Blaine and his son Charlie Combs were moving their vehicles, excavator and other equipment up beside the road which was high point in front of the house, the creek, which had swollen to it’s highest point in 40 years had started running through the far side of the road, splitting from the main water flow that traveled under the bridge and behind his home to near the front of his home cutting the Combs family and their neighbors from accessing the hill across from their home.
Blaine and his son Charlie had to think fast as they were cut off from all directions. The bridge guardrail in front of them, seemed to be their only hope. The decided to move their truck to the end of the guard rail about 15 feet from the bridge. They chained the trucks front end to the guardrail. Then, in hopes of keeping their truck from being overturned, they moved their mini excavator behind the truck and lowered the bucket into the bed of the truck. They also moved a heavy duty dump trailer behind the excavator.
It was then that Blaine, Charlie and 8 others piled in to the truck. 4 in front seat, 4 in back seat and 2 people in the bed of the truck. They settled in for a horrifying event. As debris starting piling up against the truck, the truck would jostle back and forth and as Blaine said, “I really thought that was the end”. Charlie felt much the same way and managed a phone call to his children telling them he loved them.
It was around 230am when Blaine said he watched as one of his buildings gave way which had a van, boat trailer and other items in it. He watched as his property was swept away in the ever rising flood water. It wasn’t much longer when his dump trailer also started moving and also was picked up and carried away.
This is where the story gets worse if that is possible. Although the water had receded some, it was still moving swiftly. Blane explained they could see a mobile home approaching the bridge. They watched as the home hit the bridge and was sucked under it. Much to everyone’s surprise, there were 5 people in the trailer. as it slowly moved from under the bridge. Two people, a man and his girlfriend, managed to get over the edge of the bridge and were helped in to the bed of the truck. One lady managed to grab a near by utility pole and held on for life. Another lady clung to debris and a telephone pole near the Combs yard. The fifth person, a father to the other people in the mobile home continued to float downstream.
This is where the story has a feel good part to it. As the waters continued to recede, Blaine and Charlie felt the water was low enough that they could help the woman clinging to the pole. Using the mini excavator, Blaine and Charlie could reach the woman and lower her in to the bucket.
A short time later a helicopter arrived and was able to rescue the woman from the pole and flown to safety. The father, it was later discovered, was found in a tree a half mile from the bridge, ALIVE.
After talking to the 4 other people who made it out of the mobile home, the survivors said their mobile home was swept away from the Trace community nearly a half mile up stream.
Not all ended well as the next day, a body was found a couple hundred feet from Blaines home. Blane was asked to use his excavator to help dig the body out of the rubble.
This is just one of the many stories coming out of this terrifying natural disaster that hammered Eastern Kentucky. In the absolute worse situation in life, Blaine, Charlie and several others risked everything to save others.