The flood struck a new blow on the place that has known hardship

Jackson, Q. (AP) — Evelyn Smith lost everything in the floods that devastated eastern Kentucky, saving only her grandson’s sloppy tricycle. But she doesn’t plan to leave the mountains that have been her home for 50 years.

Like many families in this dense, wooded area of ​​hills, deep gorges and flowing streams, the Smiths have deep roots. His family has lived in Nott County for five generations. They have forged ties with those who have maintained them, even as a region long mired in poverty has bled more jobs with the collapse of the coal industry.

After rapidly rising floodwaters from nearby Troublesome Creek swallowed her rental trailer, Smith moved in with her mother. At age 50 she becomes disabled, suffers from a chronic breathing disorder, and knows she will not go back to where she lived; His landlord told him he would not put the trailers back in the same location. Smith, who did not have insurance, did not know what his next move would be.

“I’ve cried until I really can’t cry any more,” she said. “I’m in shock right now. I really don’t know what to do now.”

For many who lost their homes, relationships with family and neighbors would only grow in importance after the floods, which wiped out homes and businesses and engulfed small towns. Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in a part of the state that includes seven of the nation’s 100 poorest counties, they may not be enough for those already marginalized.

“The 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 Defense Fund, which provides free legal services for low-income and vulnerable people. And for those who have now lost vehicles, homes, loved ones, it’s hard for me to see how they hold back.”

“I mean, people will,” Smith said. “People are at times more resilient than we can imagine. But without some kind of state and national help, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

He thinks that few people who can afford to quit will do so with younger people – they are less likely than the elderly to try to rebuild them – more likely to look for jobs elsewhere.

At one time coal dominated the economy of this corner of the Appalachian Mountains, offering the highest paying jobs in a place where other types of work were difficult to sustain, but according to a state report in 1990 Since then production has declined by about 90%. , And as production declined, jobs were lost.

The “record flood” could not have come at a worse time, said Doug Holiday, a 73-year-old attorney in Hazard, Kentucky, which represents miners with black lung disease and other health problems.

“The coal business is dying out and a lot of people have left,” Holiday said. “People who live paycheck-to-paycheck or on Social Security, and most of them live in mobile homes at the very edge of the economy.”

Holiday thinks that an old friend died in one of those mobile homes that were flooded and hasn’t been seen since. Andy Beshear, in what he called “one of the worst, most devastating flood events” in Kentucky history, isn’t the only people responsible.

There is a chance that the legacy of the coal industry has decreased, although this has made the flooding worse. The hardest-hit areas of eastern Kentucky received 8 to 10 inches (20–27 cm) of rain in 48 hours, and land erosion from coal mining eroded the landscape enough to help push rivers and creeks. would have changed. To reach the summit at a record level.

“Decades of strip mining and mountaintop-removal mining leave the land unable to help absorb that runoff during periods of high rainfall,” said Emily Satterwhite, director of Appalachian Studies at Virginia Tech.

The north fork of the Kentucky River reached 20.9 feet (6.4 m) at Whitesburg – more than 6 feet (1.8 m) higher than the previous record – and the record reached 43.5 feet (13.25 m) in Jackson, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist. Brandon said Bond.

Melinda Hurd, 27, was forced from her home in Martin, Kentucky, on Thursday afternoon after the Big Sandy River climbed up the stairs in front of her — and kept coming.

“It was waist high as I took my steps,” she said. She lives with her two dogs at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, about 20 minutes from her home.

Herd’s neighbors were not as lucky; Some were trapped on their roofs, waiting to be rescued.

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

Heard takes a cash job caring for an elderly woman, meaning she has no insurance or benefits.

Heard’s home also flooded on Mother’s Day in 2009, destroying almost everything. At that time she had financial support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this time she may need more help.

In a briefing with Beshear, FEMA Administrator Dean Criswell said more help is on the way. And the governor opened an online portal for donations to the flood victims.

Satterwhite said many residents want to remain, kept in place by attachment to extended families and support networks that sustain them through good times and bad.

Smith, the woman who rescued her 2-year-old grandson’s trike, said fast-moving water forced her off her trailer at around 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

“Everything in it has got mud on it,” she said. “There is probably 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) of soil in the rooms. The walls are completely submerged.”

Despite all this, she is not leaving Nott County. She doesn’t think she ever can.

“It’s a mountain,” she said. “It’s the land, it’s the people who join together to make it home.”

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Contributors include Anita Snow in Phoenix and Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla. from Salem, Ore. Selsky and Schreiner from Frankfort, Ky.

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