Appalachia Director, David Fletcher, shares his perspective on the flooding and recovery efforts in Southeastern Kentucky:
“Kentucky Update: July 24 – 27, 2023 had been just another rainy week in southeastern Kentucky. I was helping to lead the mission team from Grace Bible Fellowship in Gunter, Texas. We had done mission VBS in the projects in Hazard all week and we were staying at Twin Rocks Bible Camp in Viper, Kentucky. It had been a great week except for the rain. Twin Rocks is located 4 miles back and up in the very end of the “left fork of the Mace’s Fork” creek hollow (by the way, that’s pronounced “holler”).
Just 30 minutes away, another group of Thirst Missions Trip Leaders was leading the mission team from Cambridge Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Minnesota. This team was staying and working out of the Calvary Campus in Blackey, Kentucky. They, like my team, had been trying to beat the intermittent thunder showers all week.
Wednesday night, July 27, it began raining about 9 PM and never stopped until the next morning at 7 AM. I later heard that our area had received between 10 and 12 inches of rain overnight. I busied myself with trying to determine if my team could get to our recreation location and if it would be dry. Much of our recreation in Appalachia involves outdoor venues and activities. Finally, I determined that we could make it to Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge.
However, as we left to drive out of the hollow, we noticed that the river was rising and all the small creeks were backing up. Rescue teams, rescue boats, and rescue helicopters were everywhere. At that point, we decided that it was a better idea for the Texans to leave for Texas and the Thirst Staff to leave for home.
Our other team in Blackey was completely cut off by rising water on both sides for most of the day. They were on high ground and safe, but they couldn’t get out. Later that afternoon, the creek went down enough for the team to follow a heavy pickup truck to the highway so they could begin their journey home as well.
It wasn’t until I arrived home that evening that the enormity of the flooding began to sink in. Two of my Thirst Missions trip leaders could not get out and were stranded in Winchester, Kentucky for two days until the flood waters began to subside. Almost all of our ministry partners and the communities we serve were affected by the flood directly.
Now, it’s been months of relief work with many volunteers helping to mud-out, gut homes and buildings, kill mold, and start various steps of rebuilding. As I drive into Hazard and Jackson now, I am astonished to see not only the amount of work done but also the amount of work that remains to be done. The people of southeastern Kentucky will be rebuilding for years to come.
I am also overwhelmed to see the debris still in the trees which marked the high water line of the flood. Trees are still uprooted and blocking streams and debris piles are still everywhere. FEMA signs mark debris removal sights, heavy dump trucks and haulers are still going back and forth collecting and dumping the piles of “stuff” that used to be people’s homes and possessions.
Serving in a major disaster area is both fulfilling and overwhelming. It is great to touch people with the love of Jesus who have been through the worst circumstances. But it is tough to see how much work there is to do for a long time to come.
According to the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky who gathered their information from individual’s FEMA Relief Applications, in the 6 counties where flooding was the worst, 1,722 homes were completely destroyed and 3,986 homes were partial losses due to the flood waters. That means 5,708 homes were impacted. What a huge amount of work to be done… In other words, what a huge opportunity for God’s people to show the love and light of Jesus to thousands upon thousands of people.
A small team from Sunrise Church in O’Fallon, Missouri served with Thirst Missions in Appalachia recently. We lodged and served with The Happy Church in Jackson, Kentucky. Eight of the nine buildings that comprise the church campus were damaged by flood waters. In spite of this, the Happy Church has been and will continue to be a relief and aid center for the people of Breathitt County, Kentucky. Our team spent a week mudding out and power-washing, doing trim-carpentry, installing insulation, putting up drywall, and finishing drywall. There’s plenty to do so that our ministry partners, like The Happy Church, can continue to minister to their community.
Any size team that comes to serve this region of Kentucky in the next year will be a massive help. Please consider registering a team to serve in Appalachia to be the hands and feet of Jesus as Thirst Missions and our church/ministry partners rebuild the lives and homes of our neighbors in southeastern Kentucky.”
–David Fletcher, Appalachia Director