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Citizens Face Kentucky’s Catastrophes

By: Emily Zhang

Flash floods, tornadoes, lightning, ice storms – catastrophe strikes in Kentucky’s most vulnerable communities. Houses were ripped from the ground; ditches were formed in places where there weren’t ditches before; power was cut off for thousands of people. Just last week, the most recent disaster struck. A devasting flood drowned dozens and submerged rural cities. The rising death toll and destruction left by the recurring natural disasters make the weary citizens of the victim state wonder if the catastrophes will ever end.

The worst of the destruction has been focused on a series of counties on the Appalachian side of the state. At least 14 people died, and 1,400 had to be recused by boat and helicopter from the most recent flood. This doesn’t mean the other counties weren’t affected. In Hazard, almost a third of the population of 5,200 people have had their homes flooded or destroyed by mudslides. On the other side of the state, Breman, a tiny community, was torn apart (literally) last year by an unusual December tornado that claimed over 80 lives and left a 200-mile path of destruction.

“I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything,” Governor Andy Beshear says during a meeting, “I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can.”

True to his word, last week firefighters and National Guard crews supplied the people who had fled to shelter with food, blankets, bottled water, and donated items. Melissa Hensley Powell, age 48, tells her story on how she arrived at the First Presbyterian Church, a now-shelter for survivors in Hazard.

She and her boyfriend had recused and protected Powell’s paralyzed brother, carrying out a mattress for him to lie on and keeping him dry with umbrellas while their home flooded. A rescue team found them and brought the trio to the church. Only then did Powell begun to realize what she really had endured and survived. Many other tales are told like Powell’s, though some of them aren’t as lucky as her with fate, killed in the floods.

The good news is that mayors of each county are helping other harder-hit counties rebuild, even though their own counties are still in the process of recovering. For instance, judge-executive Dan Mosley of Harlan County accompanied workers from neighboring communities to clear out the roads which had been blocked by debris from ice storms and tornadoes.


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