Flooded Kentucky Tired After Another Natural Disaster

Danger, Q. – Firefighters and National Guard personnel in eastern Kentucky rescued hundreds of people who found themselves trapped in dangerous waters in eastern Kentucky after days of deadly flooding.

Also preparing to send a delegation: the small community of Bremen, Ky., about 300 miles away. When Bremen was battered last year by one of the worst tornadoes in the state’s history, the mayor of a small town on the eastern side of the state came to help clean up. That city, Hindman, was the most affected by this week’s floods. So the mayor of Bremen immediately began planning travel across the state with trucks loaded with supplies – even as his own community continued to rebuild.

“I said, ‘You were here in December and helped us,'” Bremen mayor Alan Miller told Hindmann’s mayor in a phone call. “‘It’s time for me to return the favor.'”

Officials have held up such efforts as a testament to a kind of generosity inherent in Kentucky’s culture, a sentiment that has persisted in the hardship of generations in which communities had to depend on one another to pull through. .

But that circle of support is also a grim reminder of the unrest triggered by the natural disaster that has gripped the state in recent months and will make it even more difficult to recover from the latest disaster. At least 25 people have died in the floods, officials said on Saturday, but the full magnitude of the human toll and physical devastation could take weeks to become clear.

“I wish I could tell you why we’re getting hit here in Kentucky,” Governor Andy Beshear said during a briefing in which he updated residents about the rising death toll and the anguish many people in the state feel. and displayed a feeling of exhaustion. After recurring disasters, including a powerful snow storm last year that cut power to 150,000 people in eastern Kentucky, a flash flood last July that left many stranded in their homes and the rare December tornado caused nearly 200 of the destruction. mile and killed 80 people.

The governor continued, “I wish I could tell you that in areas where people don’t have much, they keep getting affected and lose everything.” “I can’t tell you the reason, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can.”

These disasters – particularly floods and tornadoes – would be a staggering shock to any community. But here, they have been particularly catastrophic, striking rural areas that were already very vulnerable after decades of decline.

“These places weren’t thriving before,” said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, noting the erosion of the coal industry and the loss of manufacturing jobs. “It’s a long road to get back to where they were.”

For communities hit by the mighty floods, that road has just begun.

About half a dozen counties in the Appalachian region on the eastern edge of the state have seen the most devastation. At least 14 people, including four children, died in Nott County, officials said. More than 1,400 people have been rescued by boat and helicopter, and thousands are left without electricity.

The houses were pulled from their foundations. Bridges have been washed away, rendering some remote communities inaccessible. Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said, “I’ve noticed that where there was no ditch because of the flow of water, there was a ditch.”

His community experienced only minor flooding, he said, so for the past several days, he worked with County Transportation Department workers with dump trucks equipped with snow plows to clear roads blocked by debris and debris in neighboring communities. has done. The worst devastation he saw was in Nott and Letcher counties.

“The net catastrophic loss is difficult to put into words,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career or even in my life.”

In Breathit County, at least four deaths were confirmed, about a dozen people were missing and most of the county remained underwater. Many homes were still inaccessible in the sparsely populated counties. The community was already struggling to find its footing after the last floods.

“We had another flood, a record flood, not 12 months ago, and a lot of families started getting their lives back on track,” County Coroner Hargis Epperson said. “Now it’s all happened again, this time even worse. Everyone has lost everything, twice.”

In Hazard, a town of more than 5,200 people in Perry County, 24 adults, five children and four dogs took refuge in the First Presbyterian Church – a number almost certain to climb in the days to come. Their homes were flooded or destroyed by landslides.

Some of them arrived wet and covered in mud, said Tracy Counts, a Red Cross worker at the church. All she had to do was give them baby wipes; There was no running water.

“It is making this a difficult puzzle to solve, but we are embracing it and making it a reality,” Ms Counts said. “It’s hard to ask for help when we’re all in the same boat.”

Melissa Hensley Powell, 48, was brought to the church after being rescued from her home in Hardshell, an unincorporated area in Breathit County. She and her lover had dragged their brother, who is paralyzed, out of their house and then carried a mattress for him to lie on. They dried it by placing garbage bags and umbrellas over it.

Two days after her rescue, while having a lunch of Little Caesars pizza and bottled water, she said she was soaking in the gravity of what she had endured. “It’s starting,” she said. “We’re still in that adrenaline rush.”

In the church, a congregation rents portable toilets. People have given up water, blankets and dog food, filling some of the donated items.

“I know people have this image of eastern Kentucky,” Ms Counts said, acknowledging the painful perception among outsiders of the region as poor and backward. “But we are the first to step up. We’re going to be the first to ask, ‘How can we help?'”

But now, a flurry of calamities was testing that spirit of support in profound ways.

It is difficult to link any one weather event to climate change, but floods and tornadoes have exposed the vulnerabilities that Kentucky faces. For some, it has also highlighted failures in preparedness, as experts warn of heavy rainfall, flash floods that are shorter in duration but more powerful in magnitude, and weather patterns becoming more uncertain overall. are going.

“Let’s be aware that this is a new normal of incredibly devastating events, affecting our most vulnerable communities.,Alex Gibson, executive director of AppleShop, the arts and education center in Whitesburg, Ky., compared the flood disasters in eastern Kentucky with the devastation faced by poor island countries around the world in the age of climate change.

With vast parts of the state now facing the aftermath of floods and tornadoes, Mr Bailey said, infrastructure was already inadequate and communities had become impoverished. “We have people who are living on the edge,” he said.

“So much money has been taken out,” he said. “In a topography that has been stripped, literally, of trees and mountains, flooding in particular becomes more likely, more risky, more dangerous – that’s what we’re seeing.”

And the more communities want to rely on one another to recover from the catastrophe, the more difficult it will be to summon the resources they need on their own.

“The tension is very high,” said Judge Mosley, who is also an official at the Kentucky Association of Counties, of the wide-ranging consequences of major disasters.

Without outside support, “it would be impossible,” he said. “The resources of the federal government and our faith in God are the only things that are going to get us through this.”

Sean Hubler Contributed to reporting.

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