Floods strike again in places that have known adversity

Floods strike again in places that have known adversity

JACKSON, KY (AP) — Evelyn Smith lost everything in the deadly floods that devastated eastern Kentucky, saving only her grandson’s dirty tricycle. But she is not going to leave the mountains, which have been her home for 50 years.

Like many families in this dense, wooded region of hills, deep valleys and meandering streams, Smith’s roots run deep. Her family has lived in Knott County for five generations. They made connections with people who supported them, even as the area, long mired in poverty, lost more jobs due to the collapse of the coal industry.

After rapidly rising flood waters from nearby Trouble Creek flooded her rented trailer, Smith moved in with her mother. At 50, she is disabled, suffers from a chronic respiratory disease, and knows that she will not return to where she lived; her landlord told her that he would not put trailers in the same place. Smith, who didn’t have insurance, doesn’t know what her next move will be.

“I cried until I really couldn’t cry anymore,” she said. “I’m just in shock. I really don’t know what to do now.”

The devastation in the state is expected to intensify. Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday the death toll had risen to 26 and was expected to rise.

“There is significant damage: many families have been displaced and more rain is expected over the next day,” Beshear said on Twitter.

For many people who have lost their homes, ties to family and neighbors will only grow in the wake of the floods that destroyed homes and businesses and engulfed small towns. However, in a part of the state that includes seven of the nation’s 100 poorest counties, according to the US Census Bureau, they may not be enough for people already living on the margins.

“Poor people in eastern Kentucky are actually some of the most disadvantaged people in our entire country,” said Evan Smith, an attorney with the Appalachian Research and Advocacy Foundation, which provides free legal services to the poor and vulnerable. “And for those who have now lost cars, homes, loved ones, it’s hard for me to understand how they come to their senses after this.”

“I mean, people will,” Smith added. “People are sometimes more resilient than we can imagine. But without some government and national assistance, I don’t know what we’ll do.”

He believes that some people who can afford to leave will do so, and young people are less likely than their elders to try to rebuild where they are _ more likely to look for work elsewhere.

Coal once dominated the economy of this corner of Appalachia, offering the highest paying jobs in a place where other jobs were hard to sustain, but production has fallen about 90% since its heyday in 1990, according to a government report. . And when production declined, jobs disappeared.

The record floods “couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said Doug Holliday, a 73-year-old attorney from Hazard, Kentucky who represents miners with lung disease and other health problems.

“The coal business dried up and a lot of people left,” Holliday said. “The people who are left are living paycheck to paycheck or on welfare, and most of them live in mobile homes at the very edge of the economy.”

Holliday thinks the old friend died in one of those mobile homes that was swept away by the floodwaters and hasn’t been seen since. He’s not the only one trying to explain to people in what Beshear called “one of the worst, most devastating floods” in Kentucky history.

There is a chance that the legacy of the coal industry, though diminished, was exacerbated by the flooding. The hardest hit areas of eastern Kentucky received 8 to 10 1/2 inches (20 to 27 centimeters) of rain within 48 hours, and land degradation caused by coal mining may have altered the landscape enough to help push rivers and streams through. reach a record high.

“Decades of open pit mining and mountaintop mining means the land can’t absorb some of this runoff during periods of heavy rainfall,” said Emily Satterwhite, director of Appalachian Research at Virginia Tech.

The North Fork of the Kentucky River reached 20.9 feet (6.4 meters) in Whitesburg – more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) from the previous record – and reached a record high of 43.5 feet (13.25 meters) in Jackson, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon said. Bonds.

Melinda Hurd, 27, was forced to leave her home in Martin, Kentucky on Thursday afternoon as the Big Sandy River rose to her doorstep and then continued to flow.

“As soon as I stepped off the steps, they were waist high,” she said. She lives with her two dogs at Jenny Wylie State Park in Prestonsburg, about 20 minutes from her home.

Heard’s neighbors were less fortunate; some are stranded on rooftops waiting to be rescued.

“I know our entire basement is destroyed,” she said. “But I feel very, very lucky. I don’t think it will be a total loss.”

Hurd works for money caring for an elderly woman, meaning she has no insurance or benefits.

Heard’s house also flooded on Mother’s Day in 2009, nearly destroying everything inside. Then she received financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and this time she will probably need more help.

At a briefing with Beshear, FEMA administrator Dean Criswell said assistance would be forthcoming. And the governor opened an online donation portal for flood victims.

Sutterwhite said many residents will want to stay, held back by attachments to extended families and support networks that support them through good times and bad.

Smith, the woman who rescued her 2-year-old grandson’s tricycle, said the rapidly rising water forced her off the trailer around 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

“It’s all dirty,” she said. “The rooms are probably 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of dirt. All walls are filled with water.

Despite all this, she does not leave Nott County. She doesn’t think she ever could.

“These are mountains,” she said. “This is the land, these are the people who come together to make it home.”

– Participants include Anita Snow from Phoenix and Mike Schneider from Orlando, Florida. Selski reported from Salem, Oregon, and Schreiner from Frankfurt, Kentucky.

About the photo: This photo provided by Appalshop on July 28, 2022 shows the flooded Appalshop building in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The cultural center, known for its chronicles of life in the Appalachians, cleans up and assesses its losses. Like much of the affected region, Appalshop was inundated by a historic flood. The water flooded downtown Whitesburg in southeastern Kentucky, causing significant damage to a famous repository of Appalachian history and culture. (Appalshop via hotspot)

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

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