Six Months after Kentucky’s Thousand-Year Flood
The OPC launches springtime efforts to help a region still in need of the compassion of Christ
by Trish Duggan, OPC Disaster Response Communications Coordinator
It’s been over six months since what Southeastern Kentuckians refer to as “the thousand-year flood” hit Neon, Ky., and the thirteen surrounding communities. The flood hit fast—so fast it left death and devastating destruction in its wake. After working to rebuild Neon Reformed OPC and reaching out to the community last fall, OPC Disaster Response took a short break over the winter. We are now gearing up for our “Spring Outreach Effort” for those who continue to need help to make their homes livable.
After six months, some may wonder why there’s still a need for help in Neon. Seth Long, an elder at Neon Reformed OPC, answers by describing the area’s current landscape: “The whole thing looks like a scene from The Hunger Games. It’s dark; it’s still muddy, there’s still dirt on the streets, there are storefronts boarded up and down the streets.”
Neon’s problems aren’t all new. Seth explains that Neon is a region of persistent poverty with a longtime housing crisis: “Before the flood here we had a broken housing market, not because of any one single issue but because of many, many different issues.” Still, last year’s massive flood worsened the already-difficult conditions.
The flood’s long-lasting effects aren’t just physical, though. Seth says the region recently had a rainstorm, leading to a few inches of water saturating the ground: “People were going out of their houses with flashlights, checking it out, because there’s a kind of PTSD effect that the flood had had on people.”
Last July’s record-breaking flood was a unique flashflood, raising a single stream into a raging river. “That little stream that runs through Neon, that you can normally practically jump over, became 300-yards wide and 12-feet deep,” Seth says. That’s a memory you don’t easily forget. It’s clear they continue to need the love and compassion that only Jesus, through his disciples, can give.
Many have wondered why people would live on a floodplain and expect their homes not to flood. But Seth says that’s a common misconception: “Eighty percent of the houses that were flooded were not in the floodplain. This river raged up and beyond the floodplain.” Even Neon Reformed OPC’s building, which suffered six-and-a-half feet of water throughout, was not considered to be in the floodplain, aside from a very small corner of the building.
For the local community, the damage is pervasive and long-lasting. Seth has seen a lot of distress during his many years of building homes for the impoverished through a local organization called HOMES. But even he’s surprised by the flood’s effects. He described recently visiting an elderly gentleman at his home: “The smell of the mold [in his home] will knock you down—and he’s living in that! The floodwaters took out the underpinning and the foundation under his house, so it opened everything up and rats got into his home. He has an infestation of rats, and he can’t get rid of them.”
Seth says the house wasn’t dirty, but the man could not get the rats out of his couches, the stove, and his walls: “I just stood there shaking my head thinking, how in this world did the flood waters get this high?” The man is now living in an emergency camper provided by the state while the organization HOMES puts together a housing plan to get him into a new home.
“The fact of the matter is, this is my job; I’m doing this every day and I’m still shocked and amazed at the damage,” Seth says. “There are literally thousands of folks like him still in houses that haven’t been properly mitigated.” He says that if houses weren’t properly cleaned and dried out initially after the flood, turning on the heat during cold winter months creates the perfect atmosphere for mold to come with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, Seth says there are still remnants of people’s belongings hanging in the empty winter branches of trees along the town’s main thoroughfare: “It’s a daily reminder of the flood. We’ll be looking forward to spring when things green up, [and] you can’t see so much of it.”
So, with spring on the horizon, how can you help?
We need volunteers (again!) just as much as we needed them in the fall. Mike and Sylvia Kelly, members of Heritage OPC in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Mike is a deacon, have generously agreed to serve as site coordinators for the Neon effort for up to three months. This is an amazing answer to prayer, but they can’t do the work alone. They need help to build “Sheds of Hope,” a project done in cooperation with the PCA’s MNA Disaster Response, where prefabricated sheds are constructed on the property of those whose homes were flooded, providing them a secure, dry, and clean place to store the possessions they are able to salvage.
We also need volunteers to muck out homes, clean up yards and perform some skilled labor work. There are as many as twelve beds available in the apartment above Neon Reformed for volunteers; shall we reserve one for you?
Please prayerfully consider how you and your friends can help for a day, a week or more, and then email Jane, our volunteer coordinator at: [email protected]. For more information about this effort, go to: https://opcdisasterresponse.org/opportunity/neon-kentucky-flood/.