Floodwaters ruined hundreds of toys wrapped and ready for delivery next Christmas season to needy children, part of wild weather swings in Kentucky that dumped up to 2 feet of snow in some areas and trapped travelers on highways for nearly a day.
Flooding in the state's Appalachian region appeared limited to areas near rivers swollen by rain and snow melt before the snowstorm walloped the state Wednesday evening and Thursday, state emergency officials said Friday.
In Harlan County, Jim "Muggins" Bennett said flooding from the nearby Cumberland River seeped into sheds where he stores toys for his long-running operation of delivering Christmas presents to children, the Tri-City Empty Stocking Fund.
About half his stockpile for the next holiday season was ruined, he said.
"You want to sit down and cry a little bit," the 74-year-old ex-coal miner said Friday. "But we don't want to let this slow us down."
Bennett and his wife, Naomi, have delivered toys and food boxes for area people for nearly 35 years. It's grown to include about 3,000 toys and 600 food boxes each season. The Bennetts rely on donations, but they also buy gifts.
Bennett, who started the giveaways while laid off from the coal mines, said he and his wife are determined to make their full deliveries in December. There's no waiting until Christmas — the kids tear open the gifts as soon as they get them.
"We sit there and watch them, and it makes tears come to your eyes," he said.
Elsewhere in the region, a handful of people were evacuated by boats from their homes on Thursday due to river flooding in portions of Pike County, said Deputy County Judge-Executive Brian Morris.
In the town of Lynch, water bursting from a mine on a mountain above town sent a torrent of water and mud rushing through parts of the community on Friday, said city Clerk Erica Eldridge. The flooding destroyed a section of road and water seeped into basements, but no other significant damage was reported, she said.
The worst of the flooding in eastern Kentucky appeared to have ended, as rivers were receding or close to going down, said Tony Edwards, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jackson.
"Right now everything seems to be improving for the most part," he said.
Meanwhile, temperatures plunged below zero early Friday, and ongoing wrecks had highway crews struggling to keep traffic flowing on interstates that turned into parking lots and agonizingly long waits for motorists a day earlier.
"Our road crews have been working in very difficult circumstances," state transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said.
Some motorists endured logjams lasting nearly 24 hours from Wednesday evening into Thursday along a stretch of Interstate 65 near Elizabethtown.
Travelers ran into more stops Friday on I-65, with the same cause — tractor-trailer rigs that crashed in the slick conditions, state highway officials said.
Near Munfordville, a tractor-trailer that jumped a barrier wall had southbound traffic on I-65 backed up for nine miles before being cleared Friday morning, officials said.
The epic traffic snarls were compounded by several factors adding to the woes for travelers and road crews, highway officials said.
Heavy rains ahead of the snowstorm prevented crews from treating roads with salt or chemicals, said state Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe.
The Elizabethtown area — which turned into ground zero for the traffic delays — was hit by some of the state's heaviest band of snowfall, he said. More than 20 inches fell in the area.
"So keeping up with the snow with our plows was a major challenge to begin with," Wolfe said. "It was quickly compounded by a rash of tractor-trailers jackknifing and blocking the entire roadway. Snow plows and other responders couldn't get through."
Once the wrecked trucks were removed, a process that took hours, roads were still strewn with abandoned or disabled vehicles, he said.