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News: Roane State EMS instructors recall rescue efforts during historic Kentucky flood

View of a large flooded area

October 20, 2022

By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer

Two Roane State adjunct faculty members rescued more than 50 victims of the historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky over the course of three days.

With little advance notice on July 28, Sergeants First Class Tracy Banta and Giovanni DeZuani were ordered to fly by Blackhawk helicopter to Hazard, Kentucky, to provide rescue, medical, and disaster assistance.

When they’re not in the classroom teaching Emergency Medical Services (EMS) students at Roane State’s Knox County Center for Health Sciences, Banta and DeZuani work with Army Aviation Flight Facility #2, stationed at the McGhee Tyson Joint National Guard Base.

"We got the call to drop whatever we were doing and pack for three or four days," Banta said. Along with personal provisions and medical supplies, the guardsmen loaded water rescue gear in the helicopters. "We threw our stuff out at the Hazard airport and went straight to work."

Their mission was to provide whatever help was needed to residents left stranded by the flood. Nearly a foot of rain had inundated the region in just 24 hours. Ultimately, more than 40 fatalities would be reported.

"Some roads weren't just flooded, they were gone," DeZuani said.

Two of the hardest-hit areas were Lost Creek and Krypton, where raging floodwaters devastated a large swath of the communities.

Banta vividly recalled a small stream that fed into the main waterway. "This wasn't a river," he explained, "this was a creek you could jump over in normal conditions. It had turned into a monster."

One house that had been ripped off its foundation floated downstream until it came to rest, straddling a vital roadway. A hole had to be cut through the damaged home allowing flood victims to drive through and escape.

Banta said he and others responded to a local resident who was struggling after becoming trapped against a fence by the flood and "swallowing a lot of water."

People in isolated areas alerted rescuers about relatives and acquaintances living further up heavily wooded hollows.

Banta and DeZuani praised a Kentucky State Senator, Brandon Smith, who joined the helicopter flights and directed rescuers to areas where he had received Facebook messages from residents asking for assistance.

Banta said he retrieved at least 43 people in distress during the mission, along with seven dogs. Some people were about to run out of medicine, and DeZuani said he evaluated their health conditions as a precaution.

Banta added that he was impressed by the "resiliency of people, with neighbors helping neighbors.” Some residents "didn't want our assistance in evacuating," he explained. "There were a lot of people out cooking and just trying to make the best out of a bad situation" in areas where power lines were down.

Both guardsmen completed the Critical Care Paramedic Licensure Program at Roane State's Center for Health Sciences in Knoxville in 2017. They are now adjunct instructors in the college’s continuing education program, having taught courses in EMT, Advanced EMT and Critical Care.

For information on Roane State’s EMS programs, visit roanestate.edu/EMS.

Monetary donations to assist Kentuckians still recovering from flooding impacts can be made online at teamekyfloodrelieffund.ky.gov. Details on how to give other donations or offers of assistance to flood victims can be found at governor.ky.gov/floodresources.

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