A Flood of Support

Beginning July 25th over a foot of rain fell across eastern Kentucky triggering historic flash floods that caused havoc and damage on a scale that had never been seen.  Overall, 43 people perished.

Thousands lost their homes or suffered massive damage. Roads and bridges were washed out or blocked with debris, isolating already remote areas.

Within days, AppalReD Legal Aid diverted administrative and VLAK staff to staff a hotline for flood-related legal help and to connect callers to local resources. Anyone needing legal help related to the flood should call 1-844-478-0099.

As of 10/12/2022, AppalReD Legal Aid has 191 open flood-related cases. Attorneys in Prestonsburg, Hazard, and Barbourville are all assisting clients. AppalReD Legal Aid also hosted a flood relief clinic in Whitesburg at CANE Kitchen where flood survivors had their legal needs met in a few short hours and received hot meals as well.

(L-R) Travis Tackett, Mary Going, Whitney Bailey, Charnel Burton, Evan Smith, and Rob Johns

 Many families are still without homes or living in substandard conditions. Tents, water damaged housing, campers, and even living with family members in a utility shed. These are all situations our clients are dealing with as the nights grow colder.

Many people have been denied by FEMA for simple reasons like missing paperwork. It is critical that people know they shouldn’t give up. Applicants who were denied or feel that they did not receive what they should have 60 days to appeal from the decision date on the letter. An applicant can appeal multiple times. Evan Smith, Advocacy Director, says, "Although it’s frustrating, appeals are a necessary part of the FEMA process. Appeals are how mistakes get fixed and survivors get the full assistance they’re entitled to.”

The deadline to apply for initial FEMA assistance has been extended to October 28th. AppalReD Legal Aid will host a Q &A at the Knott County Sportsplex this Thursday, October 20 from 9am-2pm.

This September, Whitney Bailey joined the Prestonsburg office staff as the Medical Legal Partnership Attorney. However, due to immediate needs, she jumped in as a Disaster Resource Attorney and is assisting clients with FEMA appeals.

What are people’s living situations as they wait on their appeals?

WB: Our clients who have lost loved ones and all their possessions and homes because of the flood stay in my thoughts; to have so much taken away when you are already struggling is extremely difficult to process. Living situations vary from moving in with family or friends, staying in a supplied trailer/camper, living at Jenny Wiley state park, and even some people who moved back into their flood damaged home while they wait for financial assistance because they have no other option. Financial assistance simply can’t come quick enough.

Has anything surprised you about these cases?

WB: I think the most surprising thing I’ve experienced while working with FEMA clients is the amount of miscommunication between applicants and outside “resources.” I highly recommend speaking with an attorney if a FEMA applicant wants to verify/clarify anything they have been told or heard!

If you had a magic wand and could immediately grant or enact any wish with a simple swish of the wrist, what would it be?

WB: While I would of course wave my magic wand for our clients to have the funds necessary to begin rebuilding, I also wish more local mental health services were available and publicized. The flood will have a lasting impact on the eastern Kentucky community, one of the most resilient areas in the country, but it’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay to lean on mental health professionals to discuss your experience and process trauma.

What are you seeing where you live and drive through? What are the biggest challenges?

WB: I look forward to the day when all the flood debris areas and cleanup trucks/crews are only a memory. Seeing crews working late hours to clean up the creeks and hollers is positive, but I think bringing a sense of normalcy with repaved roads and repaired bridges will be a beacon of hope.

What gives you hope?

WB: Our clients’ resilience and perseverance give me hope! I know flood survivors feel overwhelmed and beaten down, but I love working through the appeal process and helping to advocate for what people need to begin rebuilding. One of my clients recently called to say they woke up with $35,800 deposited into their account from FEMA after our appeal, which was incredibly exciting and motivating for me to hear! Finding out positive news like that reinforced my belief that the assistance AppalReD is offering is literally paying off. I’m very optimistic that we will continue to hear similar stories.  


Posted: October 17, 2022