Rising floodwaters force residents to evacuate

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

HARLAN, Ky. -- The National Guard was called in to help evacuate residents affected by a storm that damaged or destroyed at least 250 homes in the worst flooding to hit eastern Kentucky in 25 years.

More rain was forecast Tuesday and the rest of the week for Tennessee and Kentucky, a day after floods and mudslides forced some residents to flee by boat as water lapped at the rooftops. Flooding also sent a trailer plunging over an embankment with a family inside.

At least seven deaths in Tennessee were blamed on the storm, which dumped as much as 6 to 8 inches of rain.

Youngster swept away

The latest victim was 3 1/2-year-old Cody Haun, who died Monday night after falling into a swollen creek behind his home in Erwin. He was swept about 150 feet downstream.

Two people drowned crossing swollen creeks and a family of three died in a traffic accident on as rain-slickened highway. In Nashville, an 18-year-old man was killed when his vehicle hydroplaned and hit a tree.

In Kentucky, flash flooding in the riverfront town of Cumberland sent Jacqueline Bellofatto's trailer over a 50-foot embankment with her family still inside. A tearful Bellofatto recounted how she survived the fall and then searched frantically for her 7-year-old daughter in the mud and rain.

"I just started yelling for her and she wasn't there," said Bellofatto, who began digging in the mud beneath the trailer. "I just dug her out with my hands. She was buried alive."

Once the daughter was found safe, Bellofatto, her husband, their daughter and 4-year-old son struck out for a neighbor's home to seek help.

"We were finding out with each step that we took we would sink down to our chest in the mud," Bellofatto said.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of a string of communities in the Cumberland River basin, where rooftops could be seen protruding from the murky water. National Guard troops were sent in with boats, trucks and a Humvee to assist with evacuations.

"The water came up so fast that we didn't have time to save anything," said Kimberly Evans, who was forced from her home at Dayhoit. "All we can do now is wait until we can get back in and see what we can salvage."

Most school systems in the region were closed.

Roads under water

Nearly three dozen roads were still under water in Tennessee's Sevier County and dozens more in Blount, Knox and surrounding counties.

"Everyone needs to stay at home and not get out in this," said Pat Evans of the Bledsoe County Sheriff's Department. "The water isn't receding any and there's more rain coming; risking your life isn't worth it."

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National Weather Service: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov

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