Severe flooding washed away homes in southeastern Kentucky late last month, and two Johnson County firefighters are on the ground helping with search-and-rescue efforts.

Sean Campbell, battalion chief at the Bargersville Community Fire Department, and Chad Tatman, communications coordinator at Greenwood Fire Department, were two of the 59 members of Indiana Task Force 1 who were deployed to southeastern Kentucky late last month following unprecedented flooding throughout the region.

During the flooding, water poured down hillsides and into Appalachian valleys and hollows where it swelled creeks and streams coursing through small towns. The torrent engulfed homes and businesses and trashed vehicles. Mudslides marooned some people on steep slopes.

At least 37 people have died since last month’s deluge, which dropped 8 to 10.5 inches of rain in only 48 hours. Authorities expect to add at least one other death to the total, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said earlier this week.

More than 500 people left homeless by the disaster are staying in emergency shelters or at state parks, Beshear said. Power outages were down to about 370 customers, while about 6,600 service connections remained without water. Debris removal efforts are moving forward, he said.

Indiana Task Force 1 was first activated on July 28, with the initial deployment calling for 32 personnel being deployed as part of two Mission Ready Package – Water teams. The next day, another 29 members were deployed as additional support. Among the members deployed were three canine handlers and two human remains detection resources, according to an Indiana Task Force 1 news release.

Immediately after arriving in southeastern Kentucky, the task force went right to work beginning search-and-rescue operations. Members searched waterways and along river banks to see if they could find missing people. Some of the missing included those who were disabled and the elderly who were not able to get out of their houses in time, said Campbell, who was one of the task force members conducting searches.

The task force also searched piles of debris, including what remained of houses that were swept into the river, he said.

“There was total devastation in the areas we worked in,” Campbell said. “A lot of missing people.”

For Campbell, he had to consider an entirely new perspective for searching due to how high the waters reached: looking up.

“You had to look up at the trees because someone could have been up in the tree … that always surprises me,” Campbell said. “You read it in a book but until you actually see it, it’s astounding.”

Once things calmed down and the waters began to recede, task force personnel assisted with damage assessments. Members went through many of the affected towns, along with other task forces sent to Kentucky, to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency determine what buildings are still safe to occupy, Campbell said.

On a least two occasions, the task force was placed on standby as the immediate response team for swift water emergencies. If a fire department determined they had a water rescue in progress at any time, the task force would be called in to respond to that, Campbell said.

Throughout their deployment, the task force has searched over 1,600 locations, including 1,303 structures, and has assisted at least 54 residents, officials say.

Campbell has deployed with the task force six times, three of which were in the last year. He previously deployed with Task Force 1 to Surfside, Florida in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers condominiums collapse last June, and in December he deployed to Mayfield, Kentucky in response to devastating tornadoes in the region.

Now back in Kentucky again, Campbell said it’s sad to see what the state is going through.

“You feel for the citizens of Kentucky a lot, especially being such a close neighbor,” he said.

This deployment is different for Campbell though. He’s trained in semi-controlled environments for swift water rescues, but having to do search-and-rescue in actual flood waters is something very different. Swiftly moving water is powerful, he said.

“I’ve seen houses be taken off foundations and going down rivers,” Campbell said. “When you’re in the water working, you have to navigate the debris — cars, telephone poles — things that can seriously hurt you.”

He also wasn’t expecting to see such devastation from a flood. The destruction looks like the aftermath of a tornado, Campbell said.

“It looks like a tornado; metal frames from houses, trailers that are really wrapped around telephone poles,” he said.

Tatman said he was amazed to see how powerful water actually is. While he has deployed with the task force three other times before Kentucky, this was his first time seeing flooding, and the devastation it causes on such a large scale.

“Just the power of water and how it could just sweep a house away,” Tatman said. “It was devastating in some of the areas we were at.”

Tatman’s role during this deployment is handling logistics to support the task force’s mission in Kentucky. This includes gathering and transporting equipment, providing meals and arranging shelter for members, he said.

Despite the destruction, Campbell said that each community the task force has gone through has been very appreciative of the task force’s help. Kentuckians have a strong sense of community, he said.

“They have a strong sense of community throughout the entire state,” he said. “They’re appreciative and they will rebuild.”

Campbell, along with other task force members, are thankful for the support they received from their families and the support system in place that allows them to deploy with the task force to help other communities. Two weeks is a long time to be away from their families, he said.

“The support system back home, our work wouldn’t be possible without that,” Campbell said.

Tatman says one thing people should keep in mind in the aftermath of the flooding is the importance of paying attention to weather warnings. Many times people become so used to hearing warnings that they don’t take them seriously, he said.

While that’s not what necessarily happened in Kentucky, it’s important for people to use this tragedy to remember why they need to take warnings seriously and err on the side of caution, he said.

While Task Force 1 was primarily assisting in search-and-rescue and other operations last week, this week the task force has been staged and conducting training operations. The task force has not yet been released or assigned other operations due to predicted weather expected to hit the area on Thursday. The weather will determine whether the task force will resume operations or return home to Indiana after Thursday, task force officials said.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say that flooding remains a threat in the region, with flood watches in effect for most of eastern Kentucky through late Wednesday evening.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.