Sunday, August 24, 2003

Searchers find body of missing woman

House was washed away during heavy storm, flood

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Search crews found the body of a woman Saturday morning who had been missing since her home was washed away by flash flooding during heavy storms that hit Franklin County.

Deputy Coroner Jerry Lamb identified the woman as Eugenie Ann McClease, 39. Lamb also identified her 6-year-old son, Jeffrey Allen McClease Jr., whose body had been found along Stony Creek on Friday. Both had been swept away in the home during the storm-induced flooding.

Searchers found Eugenie McClease around 10:15 a.m. Saturday, nearly a mile from the site where her home was washed away, said Franklin County Fire Chief Gary Watts.

Her body was discovered by officials in a helicopter, Watts said.

Officials were originally looking for three people thought to be in the home when it was torn from its foundation, but Watts Saturday said that only two were missing.

"We've heard from the family who owned the home that there were only two people in the home," he said. He said crews have ended their search for missing people and will continue to clean up areas along the creek.

Watts said officials haven't estimated the damage caused by the flash flooding, which rose from the normally tranquil creek that runs through a bed of rocks about 50 feet wide before pouring into the Kentucky River.

Franklin County - about halfway between Lexington and Louisville - was the area hardest hit by violent thunderstorms that struck the central part of the state about 3:30 p.m.

National Weather Service meteorologist James Brotherton said the storms dumped 5-6 inches of rain on Franklin County in a 90-minute period.

Roger Smith said he watched the house get swept into the creek.

"I saw it wash away with a woman and probably a 3-year-old baby," said Smith.

He saw a woman at the window and rescuers trying to get to the home. But before the rescuers could get their boat off its trailer, the house slid away.

"The house was gone. It took seconds," Smith said. He saw the house break apart, the walls collapse and the roof fall in.

Gary Mitchell, who said he is a cousin to the boy whose body was found, said he saw a similar flood over a decade ago.

"I was glad they found one of them. There was a man 12 years ago who was swept down this creek, so I knew they couldn't survive that because this is three times worse," Mitchell said.

Lt. Scotty Smither, a county firefighter, was struck by lightning. He was in stable condition at Frankfort Regional Medical Center.

High water also stranded two school buses in the northern part of the county on Friday, said Stacy Floden, a spokeswoman for the state's Division of Emergency Management.

City fire crews responded and about a dozen students on one bus were taken to Bald Knob Fire Station about a mile away from Stony Creek and have been picked up by their parents, Frankfort city fire Lt. Dan Shouse said. There were no injuries to the students.

The storm also felled trees on several primary and secondary roads. Downed trees were blocking U.S. 60 between Frankfort and Versailles, Floden said.

Police closed U.S. 421 at the edge of Frankfort, causing a traffic jam of people who live in the area and found they were unable to get home.

The line of storms was packing large hail and lightning from Owensboro to Lexington. The storms moved swiftly south, toppling trees and flooding streets in Hopkinsville, in the western part of Kentucky, about 20 miles from the Tennessee border.

Statewide, LG&E reported 2,000 customers without electricity and about 190 downed lines Saturday afternoon.

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