BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) – Volunteers at the Breathitt County Hunger Alliance are among the hundreds of people in the region gathering supplies for the flood victims. Some of the volunteers are hurting themselves, with huge losses at their own homes. This work is their medicine.
“It’s a good thing,” said director Patsy Clair. “It’s a wonderful thing and it’s a blessing from God. Everything we do, we pray about it and we are blessed.”
They are part of the fabric of a region with a “can’t quit” attitude. Their foundations of faith and family are stronger than the foundations that couldn’t hold down their houses.
“There ain’t no place like home and home is where the heart is and the heart is right here,” said survivor Mollie White, who punctuates statements with a loud, “Praise the Lord!”
White has lived in the same house in the River Caney community south of Jackson for 50 years without being flooded out, so, in her mind, why shouldn’t she come back? She maintains that attitude even as family members stay in a tent to guard against looters, and despite the fact that her daughter-in law was killed by the rushing waters. So, don’t talk to her about lost lumber, furniture, cars, or keepsakes.
“My son lost his wife but these (homeowners) over here are all saved and lost nothing the way I see it,” she said. “They’ve still got their family, so they’ve not lost nothing. Family is everything.”
Others do wonder if they should stay. Andrew Turner and his new wife just started their lives together in March by moving into a house in the same area. It sits up a little higher, so it avoided a lot of damage. But the bridge to get to it has washed away.
The Turners, like so many others here, say they don’t want to move because their neighbors are like family.
“It kind of takes this kind of thing to happen to realize how close we are as neighbors and friends and workers and co-workers,” Turner said. “We couldn’t do it without these people.”
He may be wading the stream for months to get to and from his house, but if that’s the way it has to be, he will deal with it. At least he still has a home.
“It’s inconvenient,” he said. “But we are blessed.”
If you wonder why people want to live in a place like this, just think what it looked like outside White’s house a week ago. There were gardens, flowers beds, playground equipment, and a gentle stream to play in. It was very much like a vacation spot where people would to for camping.
So, neighbors and nature keep people coming back. But there’s another factor for some people. Local leaders say there aren’t many others places to go.
Breathitt County Circuit Court Clerk James Turner said, “Even before this tragedy, people would call my office wanting to know where they could buy a house, rent a house, trailer or apartment. There’s nothing for them, nowhere to go. But I don’t blame them. I’d want to come home, too.”
He said local, state, and national leaders have to address the lack of affordable housing as soon as possible. Turner is also quick to praise all of the volunteers, national guard teams and utility workers who are working so hard to make sure people can indeed get back into those properties they love.
Scenes of despair are everywhere, but many homeowners look to the future by remembering the not-too-distant past.
Patsy Clair sums it up. “Every day when I drive home, I get to go through some beautiful country, and to get there, it’s just a peace like no other.”