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House destroyed by flooding in Emmalena, KYHouse destroyed by flooding in Emmalena, KY

Knott County, Kentucky is a unique place of beauty. But it has suffered great losses this summer.

Its mountains are not tall or organized, but run around in convoluted configurations, creating  many hollows,” or, using the vernacular, hollers.”

A holler is the very narrow valley where the creek runs; houses are built in those hollers. There is often only one road in and out of the holler; it may be a road that can accommodate traffic only one way at a time, thus complicating escape during an emergency.

After a flood in eastern Kentucky, there is also a sense of urgency if anything is to be salvaged. Why? Mold, and plenty of it, will grow very quickly in warm, moist spots. Soggy insulation must be removed, cupboards cleaned, mud shoveled, and dry” wall tossed.

With each passing day an increasingly unpleasant smell permeates the airas  piles of garbage grow into gargantuan heaps as dwellings are cleaned out and gutted.

The flood of July 2022 was much larger than any previous one in living memory. Also, the water rose very quickly and during the night. This dramatically reduced the possibility of escape. People awoke to furniture floating around and blocking doorways.

Such experiences are life-changing. That’s why we volunteer. We clean cupboards. We shovel mud. 

— Lois Wenger

Some residents survived a traumatic night. Others didnt.

Mennonite Disaster Servce (MDS) traveled up various hollers to help people who had been inundated by floodwaters. Tiny tributaries that, under normal circumstances, would scarcely wet ones ankles when crossing became roaring torrents as they spilled into the already swollen Troublesome Creek. Whole houses were swept off foundations. People clung to trees for hours before being rescued . . . or succumbing to the raging waters.

Such experiences are life-changing. That’s why we volunteer. We clean cupboards. We shovel mud. But we did not experience the flood. We did not have irreplaceable heirlooms destroyed. We did not have our homes demolished. We did not have our children wrenched from our arms by the raging waters.

But as we take time to hear the survivors share their heartaches and grieve with them, a bond is formed; and they feel someone in the rest of the world cares.

Lois Wenger, an MDS volunteer from Port Henry, New York, recently volunteered in Kentucky.

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