As flood waters swept through eastern Kentucky this week, many residents banded together to rescue their neighbors.
Jess Clark of WFPL News spoke with state Rep. Angie Hatton, who took part in rescue efforts in Whitesburg. Below is a transcript of an excerpt of their conversation.
As of Friday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear said 16 people were confirmed to have died in the floods.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Thank you so much for making some time to talk to me. I’m sure that you have a lot to do. You were on the ground with rescuers yesterday, I hear. What was that like? What did you see?
Hatton: When we woke up yesterday morning, it was the most devastating thing that anyone can remember. My house is safe, and my family is safe. But directly across the road from me where the elevation is just a bit lower, where West Whitesburg Elementary School is…the entire neighborhood became a rushing river. We couldn’t get anywhere. And then we start seeing neighbors trying to locate anyone with a kayak or a jon boat, a raft. And it just became like a roving band of citizens going from house to house trying to rescue people. I cannot even count how many people were rescued.
There was a woman in a wheelchair, and her family who were trapped on the porch, and water eventually got up to their chest. They had been calling for help all morning, but we couldn’t get to them with kayaks because the water was too strong. So we had to wait for someone with any kind of a motorized boat. Someone showed up with that kind of boat, and a couple of men got in that, and then my brother followed on his kayak, and they got across to the porch and then got the woman in the wheelchair. And I don’t know how they made it back across — the current was so strong — but they managed to do it. And then one by one, you know, got back and got the rest of her family.
One thing I’ve noticed in reading national and even statewide coverage about the community is that one of the first things outlets point to, to describe it, is its poverty. As a member of the community there, what do you want the world to know about Whitesburg? How would you describe it?
Hatton: Well, undeniably, we have poverty here. What I hope people know about us though, is that there aren’t better people anywhere. And people who are very proud and don’t ever want to ask for help, had to ask for help yesterday. And, you know, were terrified for their lives. But as soon as they got to safety, they turned straight around and tried to help others.
I know it’s probably hard to think about the future right now. Do you think people will stay?
Hatton: In eastern Kentucky, if your family has a home, you have a home. So anyone who has family they can move in with temporarily, that’s happening.
I know the state parks have opened up to the extent that they can. [We’re] trying to get some FEMA trailers here. Hopefully, western Kentucky might be finished with some of theirs [after last December’s tornado outbreak] and they want to send them. Long term, I don’t know the answer.
Angie, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you want people to know about the situation in Whitesburg right now?
Hatton: Just that we are going to need a lot of help. And we certainly need your prayers. But never ever write us off, because come hell or high water, mountain people will absolutely rebuild, and we will figure out how to be okay.