Heavy rain has again brought severe flooding to Eastern Kentucky. As of the time of this writing, there are 49 local declarations of disaster. This is certain to widen and become worse. With this blog, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition hopes to share resources on how reader donations can help provide relief for the people of Eastern Kentucky as they struggle to find shelter and basic necessities. If you would like to contribute to the ongoing efforts consider a donation to the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky’s flood relief fund, the only nationally accredited community foundation located in and serving Eastern Kentucky. Other avenues for helping are at the end of this blog.
The flooding in Eastern Kentucky is breaking records. Just to give you a sense of the extent of the disaster, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that there is “unprecedented flooding in areas like Beattyville where the three forks of the Kentucky River come together.” At this point, roads are impassable and even heavily settled areas are inundated by high water.
Breathitt County, home of core members Mike Maloney and Pauletta Hansel, is one of the counties especially hard hit as flood waters washed out homes, automobiles, and left people isolated. In less than two weeks, eight inches of rain fell, causing rivers to swell and to flood large parts of Breathitt County and other parts of Eastern Kentucky. This has produced a crisis in the region as people have lost homes and all their possessions. The Panbowl Lake community in Jackson, Breathitt’s country seat, was especially hard hit, which resulted in emergency evacuations of the hospital and nursing home. The Breathitt County High School is among those places serving as a temporary shelter for many people while some have literally slept in their cars to escape their homes.
Wallace Caleb Bates, one of Pauletta Hansel’s former students from “Our Breathitt,” a multi-year community collaboration that centered on arts & culture, health, and education, is extremely active in the aid and assistance projects in the area. Wallace Caleb Bates has lived 17 of his 18 years in Breathitt County, and his knowledge of the area and the people give him unique insight into what is happening on the ground right now. I spoke to Bates, and he explained that one of the most pressing concerns is getting aid and assistance out to people who have been left isolated due to the flooding. As Bates said, “the land is a large area, but the population is small. Many of these people are in areas where they cannot get to shelters.” Aid workers are struggling to get to these outlying areas.
Bates further explained the difficulties of getting help to a region that was already disadvantaged in many crucial ways: “We do not have the infrastructure to shelter enough people since there was a housing problem in the region before the floods.” People who were already struggling are now facing one of the worst natural disasters the region has ever seen. Bates told me he has been out to many of the effected areas. He reports of “mass devastation—really one of the worst floods in my lifetime.” Indeed, Kentucky officials are saying this is possibly the worst flood the region has ever experienced. It is difficult to convey in words the extent of what has happened.
Wallace Caleb Bates did tell me that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, is on the ground assessing damage. Aspire Appalachia is one nonprofit in the area collecting and distributing supplies. But the needs are great. The floods wiped out possessions, but many people left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They have lost things like insulin and other medications.
Bates told me there has been a huge outpouring of material assistance from people in the area. As he explained, “It is a blessing to see the support from neighboring communities. The loyalty of people in the region is enormous.” But the need for help remains dire. Again, Bates says that he fears the supplies will begin to decrease before they can get things to people in the more remote areas. As an example, Bates cited the Southfork area as almost unreachable at this point. These people will need help long after the flood waters begin to recede. You can read more about Wallace Caleb Bates’ experience in an article her wrote for The Jackson-Breathitt County Times-Voice.
There has been little in the national news about the flooding in Eastern Kentucky, and even the news in Greater Cincinnati has been largely silent about these events. It is crucial that people know what is happening in rural Appalachian right now. It is even more crucial that people do what they can to help. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition asks that we all do what we can to help get the folks back in rural Appalachia back on their feet and back into their homes.
In addition to the nationally accredited Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky’s flood relief fund, there are number of community groups and agencies who are providing assistance to their Eastern Kentucky neighbors. A helpful blog from Kentucky Moonbow about various local assistance sources can be found here. This blog provides background information of the flood and links to organizations and businesses that are taking donations and providing direct assistance, including EKY Mutual Aid Community Fund. This homegrown fund can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2557126217948530.
Artists and arts organizations are getting involved as well. Appalachians for Appalachia recently hosted Love Thy Neighbor: An Appalachians for Appalachia Flood Relief Show. The show can be found on their Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/Appalachians4Appalachia/), as can a link for donations. Acclaimed country musician Sturgill Simpson, who grew up in Breathitt County, has begun his own fundraising campaign, offering specific items for sale with all proceeds going to Aspire Appalachia.
To help, you can donate through https://www.appalachianky.org/flood and/or one of the links above.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.