Kentucky grandmother in viral Facebook photo is saved from floods

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Missy Crovetti panicked Thursday when she received a photo of her nearly 100-year-old grandmother sitting on her bed, partially submerged in floodwaters ravaging eastern Kentucky.

The photo showed Mae Amburgey — or “MomMae,” as Crovetti calls her — wearing capri pants and an already half-soaked turquoise sweater. Amburgey had joined his hands around his right knee; his lower legs disappeared in the mud. Around her: an overturned chest of drawers, an artwork made by her grandson, a pillow topped with one of her shoes and a box of Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars.

From her home in Green Oaks, Illinois, Crovetti, 52, immediately tried to call her grandmother but couldn’t get through. She also tried her brother, who had taken the photo, and her uncle, both at her grandmother’s house. They didn’t answer either. She didn’t know if they were still in the house or if they had escaped.

Over 500 miles away, Crovetti did the only thing she could think of to help: She uploaded the photo to Facebook with a plea in hopes her SOS might reach someone in Letcher County, Ky., who could help her grandmother, who is 97 or 98, depending on which family Bible you consult.

“My grandma, uncle and brother are stuck in her house across from the high school if anyone has a boat in that area the water is about 4 feet deep in the house,” he said. she posted.

She posted the message at 1:26 p.m. and hoped that would be enough.

“I was desperate,” she said.

Amburgey, his son and grandson were just three of thousands of Kentuckians forced to battle the effects of torrential rains that hit the eastern part of the state late last week. Between 14 and 16 inches of rain fell over a four-day period, turning idyllic streams and creeks into raging rivers, the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Ky. said had killed at least 37 people, displaced hundreds of people and inflicted “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damage, according to the Associated Press and a YouTube video of the governor. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Beshear warned that as the flooding recedes, “we’re going to be finding bodies for weeks.”

Kentucky flood death toll climbs to 28, with more storms to come

Randy Polly, who was across from the Amburgey home during Thursday’s flooding, told The Washington Post he saw floodwaters overtake and kill two people “right in front of me” early Thursday. When he called 911, a dispatcher told him that while they didn’t rush to answer more than 300 calls, rescuers wouldn’t be able to reach them until the waters receded.

Scores of homes have since been damaged in and around the area, and people are in desperate need of basic supplies. “It’s a war zone,” Polly said.

Before she knew of any flooding, Crovetti woke up last Thursday and, knowing that forecasters had predicted extremes, checked the weather to see if she had been right. But not in his home state of Kentucky. Because her son is attending school in Seattle, which was under threat of a heat wave, she checked the weather for the Pacific Northwest. When Crovetti did, she spotted a flood warning for her home state of Kentucky. As she researched further, she realized that her relatives in Ermine might be in danger.

Photos posted by his Facebook friends confirmed his hunch. The floodwaters seemed to rise with every photo she saw. Then she started to recognize landmarks in some of the photos and knew that if those places had been flooded, her grandmother’s house would have been too. That’s when she knew “my family was in trouble.”

Shortly after, an acquaintance forwarded the photo his brother, Gregory, had taken of their grandmother.

Although Crovetti couldn’t reach anyone by phone, Polly said a friendly stranger quickly came to the family’s aid. Initially, the man was unable to reach Amburgey’s house due to floodwaters, which Polly estimated to be 20ft high at one point. But in a second effort, he went upstream and used the current to drift home. After breaking a window, he was able to help Amburgey and the two male relatives out of the house.

Polly, 49, captured the rescue on video and then watched the group of four drive away.

“I never expected to see them again,” Polly told the Post.

Dramatic video shows nearly 100-year-old Mae Amburgey being rescued from her flooded home in Whitesburg, Kentucky on July 28. (Video: Randy Polly)

About 45 minutes after Crovetti posted the SOS appeal on Facebook, a relative sent another photo of his grandmother, this time connected to oxygen in a hospital. She later learned that her Uncle Larry had been carried away by the other three members of their party and clung to a tree until the anonymous rescuer returned to save him as well. Crovetti said she didn’t know who the man was and called him a “good Samaritan” and a “guardian angel” to her grandmother.

But it’s not a happy ending yet, she says. Her grandmother contracted pneumonia and suffered a cut on her leg, part of which became infected.

“We just hope she pulls through,” Crovetti said. “She has a long road ahead of her.

Kentucky too, she added.

Both Crovetti and Polly pointed out that thousands of people in eastern Kentucky are suffering from flooding of biblical proportions. Hundreds of homes were damaged in the Ermine area alone, Polly said. People need basic supplies such as cleaning supplies and fresh water.

“We need the help so badly,” Polly said. “People have no idea what’s going on here.”

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