The children of David Stevens frolicked on the little patch of grass they had turned into a makeshift playground, running and laughing—seemingly not caring about anything.
Their father, however, is gripped by worries about the future. And he admires the resilience of his children, given the loss and hardship they endured.
When a flood flooded their home in eastern Kentucky in late July, they first moved into a motel. Now Stevens, his 8-year-old son Loki and 6-year-old daughter Kerrigan are in a travel trailer, taking their place among the displaced by the disaster in a recreation area filled with sun loungers, picnic tables. , bikes and toys as people cling to some sense of normalcy.
“My kids are pretty cool and we’ve been through a lot,” he said. “We lost everything we had.”
They stopped at the state park’s campground, where long rows of trailers have become makeshift homes for families trying to figure out how and where to rebuild after a historic flood that killed at least 39 people across the state. Some are still waiting for checks they hope are coming from the federal government. Others got their money but got stuck in line for in-demand carpentry crews.
Fleets of trailers descend into the Appalachians, some from western Kentucky, where they served the same purpose for people who lost their homes in a December tornado.
Kentucky receives up to 300 donated travel trailers from another disaster-friendly state, Louisiana. So far, 65 trailers have arrived, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at a press conference in Frankfurt on Thursday. The trailers were originally purchased to shelter people displaced by Hurricane Ida in 2021.
In eastern Kentucky, about 300 people have moved into 100 trailers at various locations, and more are on the way or preparing on site for people who are still waiting, Beshear said. More than 340 people left homeless by the floods are still living in local state parks.
“Getting trailers is not our job,” the Democratic governor said. “It’s a safe place for them to connect. This is electricity; these are utilities. And we keep looking for more.”
The trailers offer a place where families can “scatter a bit,” Beshear said. During a recent stop in Hazard, he saw trailers set up in a park offering a range of recreational activities.
In desperate days, after flood waters flooded homes and washed away some of them, many people in the region took refuge in makeshift shelters in churches and schools. Trailers are part of the path to the ultimate goal of returning people to permanent housing.
The Governor stressed that trailers are not a long-term solution to housing problems.
“We don’t want them to stay at home forever,” Beshear said. “It’s not the end; it’s the middle. It’s a transitional home.”
But some passengers expect to spend the upcoming holidays and at least part of 2023 in trailers. They are grateful for a temporary home, but yearn for something more permanent.
“Having your own place is great, but I would prefer it to feel like home,” said Jordan Perkins, 31, who shares a trailer with his girlfriend along with their dog and cat.
He hopes the carpenter will take on the restoration of his grandfather’s house, where he lived and worked as an IT specialist before the flood. His grandfather was staying with a family friend. Due to the lack of internet in the trailer, Perkins purchased Blu-ray boxed sets of the TV shows to pass the time.
“I wish I had internet and phone service,” Perkins said. “This is really the biggest problem here. You are isolated. And people want it when they come here (to the camp), but they don’t necessarily want it when they have to live here.”
Perkins sat outside at the state park campsite with his new neighbor, Lyndon Hall. After working most of his life, Hall, a 57-year-old mechanic, took a leave of absence.
“I’ve never been on vacation,” he said, beer in hand. “Feels pretty good.”
Hall also waits in a trailer until he is at the top of the carpenters’ waiting list to rebuild his home, where he also ran his business. Family and friends stop by to visit him, and he spends part of his time fishing in a nearby lake. He said that the catfish are biting.
A few doors down, Bernard Carr shares his trailer with his 13-year-old chihuahua Wylie. The 84-year-old retired carpenter and Marine Corps veteran walks his dog outside all day and listens to country music and news on the radio. He no longer drives, so a friend brings him food and does the laundry.
He spent two weeks at his flood-damaged home until “everything started to take shape,” he said. In addition to not having access to cable television, Carr had two complaints about his new home.
“I can’t let my dog go,” Carr said. “She’s always used to going out into the yard to play.”
His only other complaint?
“I have my American flag there and I have nowhere to put it,” he said.
Several families in the region have already moved from travel trailers to other accommodations, and Stevens, 43, intends to do the same. He plans to move his kids to another location with more space as soon as it’s ready to move in.
Until then, his children will continue to play outside their trailer with bikes, scooters and other toys – all donated – strewn nearby.
“They’re good kids,” Stevens said. “I am lucky.
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