Charities step in as flood victims wait

PIKEVILLE — The mud is clearing up in eastern Pike County. Water service is back on in most places. Many kids have gone back to school.

Emergency cleanup efforts — essential to ward off mold and disease in the early days after torrents of rain fell on the night of May 8 — have been nearly completed in some counties and are well under way in others.

Now, governments and residents are waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and watching as West Virginians, hit by the same storm and the same flooded waterways, already can apply for loans and grants to rebuild. A FEMA spokeswoman said Kentucky's disaster aid application was received, and federal officials hope to make a decision this week.

Meanwhile, churches, local governments and agencies such as the Red Cross and the Christian Appalachian Project are helping people put their lives back together, but even they have to wait for direction from the government so they know where federal money will be going and where the charities can fill in gaps.

"We've got people who are absolutely hurting and in pain, and they need a quick response," Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Ruther ford said.

Alice Tackett, the wife of the pastor at Hardy United Methodist, said her church had never faced a disaster like this — they saw their neighbors' lives wash away, and knowing they were lucky the high water hadn't reached their church building, women of the church started cooking.

Spontaneously, Tackett said, the church became a hub for aid distribution in some remote areas in far eastern Pike County. While men helped neighbors dig mud and move belongings, the women cooked and delivered meals — 200 meals the first day, 280 the second, and eventually 400 a day, 600 one day. They put boxes of meals on Rhino four-wheelers to bypass washed-out roads, and once they even delivered 200 Red Cross meals because the agency's vans couldn't reach those in need.

"That's what the church is supposed to do. That's what we're called to do," Tackett said.

Eventually, many of the church members had to go back to work, and meal deliveries have stopped. Mud is slowly being washed away, and Belfry Middle School, with up to a foot of mud in its basement, is starting to look as if it might have life again.

"We're just now beginning to talk about any kind of long-term recovery and what that will look like," said the Rev. Albert Hughes, disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Church Prestonsburg district.

Until now, it's been "just trying to help people to be safe, sanitary and secure," he said.

With individual and public disaster declarations, West Virginians in Mingo and Wyoming counties can apply for grants for temporary housing rental, home repair and home and business loans. Counties can apply for help rebuilding roads, bridges, schools and other public facilities.

A disaster declaration is expected for Kentucky but hasn't come yet, and what kind of disaster declaration it will be is still unknown.

The Red Cross, which finished its initial damage assessment, is expecting to stay in the area working with individual clients for at least the next week, said Winn Stephens, the Red Cross's Bluegrass Chapter development director. FEMA sometimes does that work, Stephens said, but in this case, it looks as if the Red Cross will be handling it.

West Virginia and Kentucky are in different FEMA districts. Kentucky is in district 4, which is stretched by pending disaster declarations in Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, FEMA public information officer Jody Cottrill said.

Also, 18 Kentucky counties were hit, compared with two in West Virginia, and the request for aid from Gov. Steve Beshear's office came days later than West Virginia's. An amended disaster-aid application was expected to arrive in the FEMA Atlanta office on Friday, and Cottrill said she hoped the matter would be decided this week.

"If there's a reason for the anxiousness" for Kentuckians, Hughes said, "it's because after the ice storm, they found out the counties are going to get some help, but individuals will not."

He said media coverage in West Virginia that was more thorough than in Eastern Kentucky might have played a part in the disaster declaration. The number of people and the amount of devastation, as well as the timing of the state's request, all could play a part, he said.

Floyd County, Hughes said, "is definitely moving past cleanup into some more long-term recovery issues." He said the county, where Red Cross reported that 96 homes were destroyed, is mostly cleaned up and is waiting on FEMA emergency funding. "And then we'll know where to proceed," Hughes said.

In Pike and Breathitt counties, he said, mud still coats floors, and cleanup efforts will continue for a while.

Places like the Hardy church make Hughes proud. With the United Methodist Church, he has responded to numerous disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. In Eastern Kentucky, he said, people come together and help each other like nowhere else.

"We're not going to wait on others to come in and do for us what we could do for ourselves," Hughes said.

Tackett said she was touched by donations from bakeries and other businesses. She said her church delivered meals to home and business owners with devastating flood damage, and they turned around and gave hundreds of dollars to help make more meals for others.

"It just showed the character and the true spirit of the people in the community," Tackett said.