Body found in floodwaters after storms pound Claiborne County

6:13 PM, Jun 20, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Monday's early mornings storms produced spectacular lightning

  • Flooding in New Tazewell 6/20/11
  • The tunnel on 25E towards Middlesboro is closed due to flooding.

Update: Monday, June 20, 5:30 p.m.

The Claiborne County Sheriff's Office confirmed its deputies recovered a dead body in Harrogate floodwaters Monday afternoon.

Sheriff David Ray said the body was found early Monday afternoon on Shewanee Road in Harrogate near Ellen Myers Elementary School.  Ray said an autopsy would be performed to determine how the person died.

Ray said the victim is in the process of being identified.  The identity will not be released until next-of-kin can be notified.  The sheriff also said it appears the deceased person may have lived in the area that was submerged in deep flood waters.

"The water is still rising in some places.  It will probably be another 24 hours before the water starts to go down," said Ray.

Severe storms began pounding Claiborne County with lightning and heavy rains at around 4 a.m. Monday.  Within a couple of hours, several roads were impassable due to high waters and downed trees.

One of the largest road blocks occurred at the Cumberland Gap tunnel on Highway 25-E between Harrogate and Middlesboro, Kentucky.  A mudslide closed all four lanes from mid-morning until late Monday afternoon.  As of 5 p.m., all lanes have reopened at the tunnel.

Mud and rock slides wreaked havoc on several secondary roads in Claiborne County.  Mike Sharp, superintendent of roads in Claiborne County, said there were at least six road blocks due to mud slides.

"I've lived here my entire life," said Sharp.  "This is one of the three worst floods in my lifetime.  You have to go back to 1977 and 1998 to see anything like this one.  This storm also had a lot of lightning with a lot of trees down. There are people who can't get out from their homes roads are completely washed out."

Sharp said road crews, rescue squads, fire departments, and law enforcement worked to check on residents and clear roads where possible.

"The sheriff also responded very quickly with inmates to help clear debris," said Sharp.  "We have had a lot of budget cuts that make this job even harder, but everyone is working hard and doing the best we can.  You can't always prepare for this.  When it happens you just have to come and clean it up."

Employees at the DeRoyal Plant in New Tazewell found their path impeded by a road block of rushing water.  Joan Brown and other employees were unable to reach the plant for a couple of hours.

"It is unreal.  I got stuck at home and made it out.  Then I got down here [to the DeRoyal plant] and cannot get across to get to work.  I guess we could try to swim or get your surfboard out, but right now we're stranded," said Brown.  "This is the worst flood I can remember."

As residents gauge the storm's place in history, now they wait for the water to recede in order to fully gauge the damage.

"We'll get through this. It may just take us a little while, but we'll get through it," said Sharp.

Previous story - Monday, June 20, 10:00 a.m.

Major flooding has trapped some Claiborne County residents in their neighborhoods.

According to Superintendent of Roads Mike Sharp, crews are working to clear downed trees and clean up mudslides caused by heavy storms Monday morning.  Sharp says that local fire departments, road crews, and even inmates supervised by the Sheriff's Office are clearing the affected secondary roads.

Sheriff's deputies are checking on some residents trapped in neighborhoods.  There have been no reported injuries.

Employees at the DeRoyal plant are unable to get to work because of the flooding.

The Cumberland Gap tunnel on 25E heading to Middlesboro is currently closed according to Sharp.  There is a mudslide near the tunnel.

Sharp says this is the third major flooding event in the last four decades.  The others were in 1977 and 1998.

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