Flash Floods Washing Away Kentucky, In Case You Hadn't Heard

Flash Floods Washing Away Kentucky, In Case You Hadn't Heard

Catastrophic flooding in eastern Kentucky has killed at least 28 people so far. That number is tragically rising even as you read this, and the region is bracing for even more rainfall this week. The floods, which started Thursday, are unprecedented, and officials report that some homes have been swept off their foundations and bridges washed away, further isolating remote communities.

CNN reports:

"This is one of the most devastating deadly floods that we have seen in our history," [Gov. Andy Beshear] said on NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday. "It wiped out areas where people didn't have that much to begin with."

"We're going to be finding bodies for weeks, many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe a quarter-mile plus from where they were last," the governor said.

This is horrifying, and footage from the aftermath is heartbreaking. These are actual people, not grim statistics.

Dan Mosley, the judge-executive for Harlan County, which fortunately experienced only minor flooding, said, “The pure catastrophic loss is hard to put into words. I’ve just never seen anything like this in my career or even my life.”

Kentucky has been devastated by recent natural disaster. A fierce ice storm last February cut off power to 150,000 people in eastern Kentucky and caused fatal traffic accidents. Flash flooding last year was the most significant in 50 to 60 years and stranded many residents in their homes. Last December, tornadoes ripped through 200 miles of western Kentucky, killing more than 100 people.

It’s especially tragic as the hardest-hit regions weren’t exactly thriving prior to these disasters. The coal industry has collapsed and manufacturing jobs have vanished. Hargis Epperson, the Breathitt County coroner, grimly observed that "a lot of families had just started getting their lives back on track” after past setbacks, but “now it’s happened all over again, worse this time. Everybody’s lost everything, twice.”

Bethany Smith and Jesse Nickell from Jackson, Kentucky, had been evicted from their home last month. They were staying with their friend, Kasey Burton, who woke them up Friday morning and told them to get dressed quickly because "‘the river’s in the backyard.”

Burton’s family and friends escaped with their lives, but she knows others weren’t so fortunate.

“There’s kids that lost their lives. There’s six of them that died and I have a 9-year-old boy. If I would have lost him, it would have been over,” said Burton.

This tragic cycle of sudden and repeated loss has left even the governor at a loss to explain it all. During a briefing this weekend, Beshear said, "I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky. I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything. I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can."

Natural disasters don’t care if most Kentuckians vote for Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, or Rand Paul, and neither should you. Joe Biden responded like a true American president this weekend and immediately approved a Major Disaster Declaration to provide federal support for flood victims.

Kentuckians are helping each other through this latest tragedy. Communities still reeling from the tornadoes are helping flooded counties that stood by them in their time of need.

“I said, ‘You were here in December and helped us,’” Mayor Allen Miller of Bremen told the mayor of Hindman in a phone call. “‘Now it’s time for me to return the favor.’”

Kindness and mercy is what Kentucky needs now, not judgement and schadenfreude. The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky has launched a crisis fund that you can donate to here. The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation is also accepting donations for flood relief. Let’s all try to lend a hand to our fellow citizens.

[CNN / New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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