MAYFIELD, Ky. – The flash flood warning went out via electronic channels the Amish typically eschew: TVs, radios and computers. About an hour after the National Weather Service alert, four children were swept away as their family tried to ford a rain-swollen creek in a horse-drawn buggy.
Whether the family was aware of the warning for their Kentucky county, they knew it was raining hard Thursday night. And when they reached the normally tiny creek, it was more like a fast-moving river.
Within moments, the covered buggy tipped, tossing the four children into the torrent.
Amid the darkness, searchers were summoned. By early Friday, rescuers had recovered the bodies of three of the children. They later found the fourth.
"We're trying to give the family some time by themselves right now to grieve," Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon said. "There's no doubt that this was just a terrible accident."
The night had begun when Emanuel Wagler had packed his wife and children into the buggy for the short trip to his brother's house. The buggy is a mode of transportation commonly used by Amish families like Wagler's.
Emanuel and his brother, Samuel, went to a community telephone inside a wooden shack not far from the brother's house to call their father in Missouri.
"That's the main reason they came out, to call my dad," explained Samuel Wagler, 37.
Later, the families ate supper. Samuel figured the tiny creek his brother had to cross had risen to around the black buggy's axles by Thursday evening.
Emanuel, his wife and seven children — one of them Samuel's 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth — were on their way back around 8:30 p.m.
Already, the severe thunderstorms that had swept over these rolling green farmlands had dumped 2 inches of rain on the countryside. More was coming, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning for the eastern Kentucky county, said meteorologist Rachel Trevino.
It's not clear if the family knew of the warning, issued just about an hour before the tragedy.
"It's very sad. Very, very sad," Trevino said.
The Amish live among non-Amish in this farming community near the Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois state lines. By Thursday evening, some 250 emergency workers were helping in the search.
They found the bodies of 5-month-old Rosemary, 5-year-old Sarahmae and 8-year-old Samuel.
Despite hopes that Elizabeth may have been clinging to a tree branch, her body was found late Friday morning.
"She was just an all-around good girl," said uncle Levi Yoder, 30, his voice cracking.
Neighbors brought food to the farmhouse where the family lives, and an Amish woman was hanging clothes on a line beside the house on Friday. Reporters were asked to leave.
"The community has stepped up above and beyond," said Rachel Marler, a non-Amish neighbor.
Cassie Hammonds, who owns the Shamrock Restaurant in Dublin, is collecting donations of food and money to help the families with the funeral, which she said would be Monday.
"They're going to have a great big gathering. They're expecting about 1,000 Amish for the funeral, and of course they feed them," she said. "So that's why we're doing it."
She took over collecting donations because she operates one of the few businesses in town, and it's a gathering place for residents.
Kentucky has nearly 8,000 Amish and 31 settlements, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa.
Graves County has up to 250, divided between two settlements, said Don Kraybill, a Young Center senior fellow.
On Friday afternoon, the battered buggy sat beside the creek in a cornfield. Its wheels were mud-caked and slightly buried in the thick brown soup. Part of the buggy's side had peeled away. A red blanket hung out of the cabin. The horse survived.
Yoder kept his own vigil, trudging through a muddy field at creekside when his niece's body was found.
"They crossed this creek, but when they came back they didn't realize it was still rising," he said, his voice choked with emotion.
Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan and Janet Cappiello Blake in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.
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