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Helping with recovery and cleanup in Eastern Kentucky? There are some dangers to keep in mind

Karyn Czar

If you're in Eastern Kentucky or heading there to help with cleanup efforts in the wake of the flooding, there are some important hazards to be aware of as recovery efforts shift gears.

While the most obvious dangers related to the flooding might be passing, Dr. Erin Haynes with the UK Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health says a number of less visible hazards can still prove risky or even deadly.

One is the spread of chemicals, such as gas, pesticides, and lead, that mix with the swirling waters and mud.

"All those chemicals that are rushing through the waters and going to settle and be part of the cleanup, so people need to not consider it regular mud or garden soil. This should be assumed to be a hazardous work site."

Haynes also warns not to assume structures are stable after waters may have weakened them in ways that aren't immediately apparent.

Other threats include the increased spread of disease and even uprooted wildlife.

And when it comes to cleaning surfaces, there's the problem of fast-growing mold that can emit toxins and cause allergic reactions with particular risks for those with asthma. Haynes says protective gear is key.

"If they are handling mold on drywall or pieces of their home, they should be wearing goggles, gloves, and even an N95 respirator. It's the toxic," she cautions.

For those wishing to help via donations, the state says monetary contributions, gift cards, cleaning supplies, and water are at the top of the list. One thing not to send: clothing. Gov. Andy Beshear says unneeded clothing donations are actually taking up space and should be avoided.

Emergency workers and first responders are gradually shifting their focus away from search and rescue, but the forecast is keeping some on alert through the end of the week.

The good news, Beshear reports, is that the most intense phase of the emergency response is winding down in the flooded areas.

"Primary search and rescue has been completed," he said Thursday. "That doesn't mean that there aren't a couple of places that we are still looking for people, but the primary operations are done — though we're keeping everybody that is on the ground until the weather passes tomorrow in case we would have to make additional rescues because of the precipitation that could happen in some areas."

Now the main goal is getting everyone in stable housing and with the necessary supplies as heat becomes a major concern. That said, the governor reported improvements in getting power, water, and wastewater systems back online.

The state is urging residents to document, as best as possible, the extent of the damage and in the more than half a dozen counties where FEMA individual assistance has been approved, the governor says everyone significantly impacted — regardless of their insurance or income status — should apply.

A list of flood resources can be found here.

In the meantime, talks between the governor and legislators in impacted districts are underway regarding a possible special legislative session to deal with the disaster.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.