LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) – Legal aid group AppalReD typically focuses its efforts on low-income members of the communities it serves. But once the floods hit eastern Kentucky, they stepped in to offer disaster relief services – free of charge.
After becoming a first-generation college graduate, Kristen Back moved away from the mountains and settled in Madison County. Her family tree spreads across SEKY…and a late-night call from her mother in July made her realize that it’s roots would soon be pulled right out of the ground.
”She kept FaceTiming me and it was like 3 AM,” said Back, who was born and raised in Letcher County. “I was like this is weird.”
Flooding made her hometown of Neon unrecognizable.
“All these buildings I’m used to seeing every day of my life, in good shape…had X’s on the windows,” Back said.
It also put her family’s lives in jeopardy, especially her grandfather Donnie Q. Back, who lived in Jeremiah.
“He said it just sounded different than it does when it’s normally raining, so he opened the door and that’s when all the water came pouring in,” said Kristen.
The water continued to rise in Donnie’s home and he didn’t leave until later that day when Kristen brought him to safety. His home was left a complete loss.
A few days later, she noticed his condition began to deteriorate. Kristen says his oxygen tank ran out on the day of the floods, causing brain damage.
“He knew who he was and where he was born, but he didn’t know where he was,” said Kristen.
“And were those issues he’d had before?” I asked. “No,” was Kristen’s quick response.
Kristen took her grandfather to the hospital where he was then moved to the ICU, and eventually, to hospice care. Three weeks after Donnie lost his home of 40 years, Kristen lost her grandfather.
“I know he was getting to be with my granny, his wife, my dad, my uncle,” said Kristen. “So, I knew it was an okay thing it just hurt really bad.”
Despite dealing with such a great loss, Kristen had to keep moving forward. But she took another hit when FEMA denied her application for assistance with the loss of her grandfather’s home.
That’s when she found AppalReD.
“She’s one of those clients that whenever we met, we cried,” said Whitney Bailey, a disaster resource attorney with the organization.
Kristen shared her story with Bailey when they first met. Now, they’re on the path towards appealing her denial together.
“It’s good to know that at that point that somebody was going to actually be helping me, and I didn’t have to keep helping everybody else,” Kristen said.
Having been on the brink of giving up herself, Kristen knows well that her two hands could only carry so much of the burden these floods have brought. So she urges fellow flood victims not to give up and to look for a helping hand instead.
“It’s such a blessing to be from that community,” said Kristen. “It’s just a reminder of how lucky we all were to have each other.”
Bailey says they are serving between 200 and 250 flood victims. But they’re still hoping to help more ahead of FEMA’s deadline to apply for disaster assistance on October 28. She says you can reach AppalReD for help by calling their Flood Intake Hotline at 1 (844) 478-0099.
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