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Kentucky flood victims file suit against mine companies

August 24, 2022 GMT

JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — Dozens of eastern Kentucky flood victims have filed a lawsuit that says two coal companies contributed to the damages they suffered.

Nearly 60 people who live along River Caney in the Lost Creek community of Breathitt County were listed as plaintiffs in the complaint against Blackhawk Mining and Pine Branch Mining.

Catastrophic flooding last month caused at least 39 deaths in eastern Kentucky and hundreds were still sheltering at state parks after losing their homes. The governor called lawmakers into a special session Wednesday take up a relief package for the flood-ravaged region.

The complaint filed this week alleges the defendants operated multiple silt ponds that failed because “they were improperly maintained and improperly constructed.” The failure “caused debris and excessive water to flow onto the Plaintiffs’ properties,” the lawsuit said.

The suit says all of the plaintiffs suffered significant property damage and a majority are now homeless. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, saying the companies “acted in wanton disregard.”

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Gregory Hays initiated the lawsuit and told WYMT-TV that he worked in the coal mine for a short time in 2008.

“I know what the silt ponds smell like, that dirty gray look in the water. You could tell what it was,” he said.

Blackhawk Mining said in a statement sent to news outlets that the flood “was a natural disaster without precedent.”

“We do not agree with claims made by the lawyer representing the plaintiffs and will respond accordingly at the appropriate time,” the statement said.

“Our people were deeply impacted by the flooding, including loss of loved ones, homes and belongings. We have been supporting the community with relief efforts from the beginning and our sympathies are with those affected,” it said.