LEE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — March 1, 2021, is a day I probably won’t soon if ever forget. You usually don’t forget taking a boat ride on a small town’s main road.
“365 days ago we would’ve been standing in about four feet of water where we are right now,” said Lee County Emergency Management Director, Jon Allen.
Exactly one year ago, a late winter rain event, turned into a life-altering tragedy for so many people of Lee County. The river overflowed and raged in a way no one had ever before seen, and the power of the water destroyed everything in its path, including homes and businesses across this small town. You couldn’t safely get a glimpse of the scope of the damage without taking a boat ride down Main Street.
“We had to put our electric company on a pontoon boat and bring them down Main Street disconnecting electrical services, because we were worried people would try to get back into their buildings and be electrocuted in the water,” Allen explained of the many problems that stemmed from that storm.
One year after Allen thought this town would never bounce back, we walked with him down the same road we boated on last year. Many store owners rebuilt on the same location, and the downtown area once again looks almost as it did before that storm. Resilient was a word we heard thrown around a lot during our visit on the one-year anniversary. It certainly applied to the people who fought back from the devastation of a year ago.
“We’ve been here all our lives, so we knew we had to clean up and move on,” said Debbie Dunaway. Mrs. Dunaway is the second-generation owner of Lee County Florist and Gifts. She cleaned up the mess, re-stocked her inventory, and turned the register back on.
There wasn’t a business along this strip that was spared of the damage, and there are a few shops that haven’t yet recovered, or its owners didn’t try. Los Two Brothers restaurant isn’t one of those.
“Everybody pitched in,” said owner, Jessica Hernandez of the community members and restaurant employees who helped clean up and rebuild.
“We were in there with hammers tearing things out and pulling things up,” she explained. Hernandez was able to reopen in two months.
“There’s always been a lot of heart in this restaurant,” Hernandez said of her establishment, before crediting her landlord for spending the money that it took to rebuild the place.
Hernandez said every time rain is in the forecast she gets a little skittish now. Allen noted, should a storm like that happen again and the river responds in a similar manner, certain improvements and changes to the infrastructure should make them better equipped to handle the situation. Other projects that would serve to help accommodate such a surge, he said, are in the pipeline.
Allen also said his moment of thinking the town would never recover was fleeting at best. And at that moment he had miscalculated something that turned out to be even more powerful than the river that destroyed this town.
“I underestimated the people here. And I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.