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Eastern Kentucky has long been neglected. After recent floods, locals are relying on each other again

"I'm hungry," she calls out cheerfully.

The couple are happy to see her again. Slone has become a familiar face in the last few days, serving dozens of home-cooked meals to people in remote areas of Knott County. Today's menu: Sloppy Joe and corn salad.

When Slone gives food, he notices a disassembled bed frame and mattress sitting in front of him. She asks if she needs to put it together-her husband and friends with her today have muscles for work, she jokes-but the couple shouldn't worry about her Say to.

She also states that she is working on getting them an air conditioner unit-she said the couple was sleeping in a hut and the temperature was unbearably hot. I suspect it may be.

"We just got together and did what we had to do to support each other," she told CNN. "That's our job."

Hairdresser Slone, whose nearby litker house escaped the worst floods, can afford to take a vacation to take care of the more vulnerable members of the community. I say I'm lucky to have. Many people in eastern Kentucky are already struggling when a disaster strikes, and their current needs are vast and urgent.

Sloan and others in eastern Kentucky know that in areas that have long been ridiculed and dismissed by outsiders, neighbors cannot expect help coming from elsewhere. So they are doing what they have always done: helping each other survive.

People here were already struggling

The houses and livelihoods wiped out by the floods were already on unstable ground.

After the boom and bust cycle of the last century, the coal industry in eastern Kentucky has declined sharply since the 1980s as companies fired workers in favor of automation and mechanization.Many workers in the region have lost their jobs due to increased demand for alternative energy sources and reduced coal mining profitability.
Still employed miners wereprescribed opiatesfor pain from injury, a phenomenon that helped trigger an ongoing opioid epidemic. did.
After decades of withdrawal from investment in the region, outflows have occurred in parts of eastern Kentucky. In Knott and Letcher counties, two of the most flood-damaged areas, populations were populated between 2010 and 2020, according to county-wide poverty rate data from theUS Census Bureau. Each decreased by about 12%. The region is more thantimes the national average of, and the unemployment rate is just as severe. These conditions lead to a reduction in the tax base and provide local governments with little funding to improve their infrastructure.

There are also challenges in the beautiful and rugged landscapes that the region is proud of.

Eastern Kentucky consists of hills and "horror" or narrow valleys cut out by streams. However, steep slopes are prone to landslides and valleys remain vulnerable to flash floods. Building on a hill can reduce the risk of flooding, but doing so is very expensive, says Bill Haneberg.

“People really have few options other than living in floodplains,” adds Haneberg, a state geologist at the University of Kentucky and head of the Kentucky Geological Survey.

When historic levels of rain began to fall in late July, the streams along the valley turned into raging rivers, knocking down already fragile houses from their foundations. Floodswashed away dirt roads and small bridges, and some lost vehicles. Many remained stuck.

How decades of coal mining and fossil fuel mining have changed the landscape of the region, as warming planets can make such extreme weather events more common. I have a concern about.

“Even if there were no coal mines in eastern Kentucky, a very serious flood could have occurred,” says Hannberg. "The question we don't know the answer to is how much this amount of disruption has increased the severity of the current floods."

A county forms an aid network I did

These situations are part of the reason why Slone feels forced to be there for his neighbors.

After cooking for a few days with the help of her mother and her sister and delivering the meal, she noticed that some people were out of contact with the community. So she asked some friends who have off-road vehicles to enter horror where their trucks can't. They travel deep into these remote communities to deliver food and cleaning supplies and ask residents how many homes they have in front of them. If they have to get out of the car to climb there, they do.

“Many people are stuck,” says Slone. "And there are a lot of people who don't know that people are stuck. We find people every day."

Slone funded himself on the first day of his meal and he Called for donations to continue his work. She first received about $ 800 and her money continued to flow, she says. Soon she received a request for non-food items. Some needed a propane tank so that the generator could keep the medical device running, and another had to rent a side-by. -The side of the day.

What started as a small operation continued to expand. Another community member involved in Knott County-wide aid efforts contacted and asked if Sloan would take the lead in addressing the needs of the Pine Top and Canny communities.

Slone is now part of a team of volunteers across the county. Group members communicate using the transceiver app Voxer, and voice messages go into a chat titled "Knott Flood" all day long.

Slone opens the app while rooting on the pinetop. She wants to know if anyone has a trailer that can be used to carry supplies equivalent to a church parking lot. Slone replies that her husband has something he might be able to borrow. In another voice message, she states she is trying to procure two AC units for the in need.

There are also specific requests for her designated area, whether someone needs diapers or toothpaste.

“We'll make sure we can do it, even if it's unreachable,” says Slone.

Mutual Aid groups give out cash

Others across the region are emerging in a similar way.

One example is EKY Mutual Aid, aFacebook grouplaunched in 2020 to help people overcome pandemics. Like other mutual aid networks across the country, it's a community of people who work together to address each other's needs-neighbors who help their neighbors without a top-down leadership structure.

People post to the group about what they need-one man whose house is flooded needs money to pay for the motel where he and his children are sleeping, another Men are overwhelmed because they care for their older relatives and just need them. Other members of the group will provide as much support as possible.

Ideas are solidarity, not charity, says Misty Skaggs, one of the group's admins.

Over the last two years, EKY mutual aid has increased from about 60 to 4,000, with at least half attending regularly, says Skaggs. A week and a half after the flood, the group now has more than 5,000 people. In rural areas, where the population is very small, the numbers are relatively large, and Skaggs recognizes the strength of the community in the culture and history of Appalachia.

“When you're struggling, you learn to struggle together a little better,” she says.

Community members are also giving out what many people need most urgently: money.

At a temporary supply center in downtown Whitesburg, Jessica Shelton discusses the challenges facing the community as women walk through the door.

"Are you still giving out $ 200?" The woman asks. "I have someone here who can use it."

Shelton, who organizes mutual aid activities in Whitesburg and works closely with EKY Mutual Aid, she I will guide you to someone who can help you. The woman went out with money and did not ask any questions.

"Giving them $ 200 is," You are worth something and deserve this. I'm not going to ask you what you're doing with that money, but you I know I need it. " Shelton, who is also the director of the Appalachian Media Institute of the nonprofitAppalshop

, personally donated about $ 25,000 to help flood victims. She says she received it. It was distributed as a direct aid. But she emphasizes that she's not the only one in this job-communities throughout eastern Kentucky are lifting each other.

“I know some people are helping their neighbors tinker with their homes and rent them as much as possible,” says Shelton. "Everyone really helps each other, whether they call it or not."

The locals feel that they have been overlooked for a long time

In eastern Kentucky, caring for a neighbor is more than just a benevolent gesture, it's a survival.

"One of the things we noticed in the process of mutual aid is that most people around here, even if poor people live, these that the government and we should depend on. The idea is that institutions really don't care, or they die, "says Skaggs. "And I believe it."

That feeling of negligence resurfaced in the aftermath of the flood and flows deep into the region.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Bidenvisited on Mondaywith Governor Andy Beshear and First Lady Britainy Beshear of the State. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are investigating damage in the area, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency says that uninsured or uninsuredin 12 countiesapply for disaster relief. I announced that I can do it.
Meanwhile, Bescherat a press conference on August 3, the state raised more than $ 3 million toto help those affected by the flood {126. } He said he had collected donations. The legislature was considering a special session to discuss relief.

However, even if such assistance is approved, it may take some time before it is approved. And for some in eastern Kentucky, these announcements are just one drop of what they really need to tackle the challenges facing the region.

“There was a housing crisis before this flood. There was an environmental crisis before this flood,” says Shelton. "No matter how much we scream, no one has the power to do anything about it."

Like Sam Killen, a 4th generation Fleming Neon resident. Other people are also skeptical. He wanted to see the existence of some federal government sooner, but he's not sure if the final approved funding would be enough for his town to recover.

"It's like we're at the end of the range of getting something," he says. "And that's the way we've always been treated. We don't have enough population to guarantee enough influence."

Just a week after the disaster, Quillen and colleagues say they feel that public attention is already diminishing.

However, many promise to stay at

. As Crystal Watson investigates what's left of the Isom Vendors Mall and Flea Market, she wonders what her business and her area are like. -She will recover.

People came from the surrounding counties to an indoor antique mall in Letcher County to win discounted appliances, furniture and other items. There were few other financial opportunities in the area, and the market owned by her and her husband for seven years also highlighted many vendors.

Floods have wiped out thousands of dollars inventories and livelihoods, Watson said. A 96-year-old woman on the market was working here to earn extra income, but in between work couples relied here to earn income.

Watson, her staff, and some friends have been working since last week to get rid of the mud that hardens the floor. Destruction of the place where she spent much of her waking hours is hard to get angry with, but she knows that many people make it much worse. So she is doing her best to resume.

"This is necessary in this area because people can't afford new ones," says Watson. "Everyone has a fixed income or is an elderly person. They need something like this."

Others have come to another conclusion. In the town of Killen, Fleming Neon, several senior business owners have already told him that they have no plans to reopen. Reconstruction takes time and money they don't have, and they are better off relocating.

However, many see the potential of eastern Kentucky and seek a better future.

A few years ago, Slone moved to Morgantown, West Virginia for a while. But it wasn't home, and she returned soon.

She overlooked "what she puts in the pot roast." At the grocery store, she says, "How are you doing?" "This is where you want to be when something happens."

Slone doesn't know how long to cook and deliver supplies to his neighbors. But as long as she needs to, she says she's there-appearing for those who make this beautiful and complex area valuable.