It’s nine at night. Ron is rolling over the dark Appalachians, traveling 70 mph. He’s bound for Kentucky. We’re talking on the phone.

He’s a security guard at a department store in Florida. He just got time off so he can travel to Kentucky to help with disaster relief.

“I’m a fifth generation Kentuckian,” he says. “I been away from home for thirty years. But it’s like my daddy always said, we take care of our own.”

So far, the flood in Kentucky has killed 25 people. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said he expected the death toll to continue to rise. Among the dead are six children. Four of which were swept away from their parents’ grasp in the floodwaters.

Some say it was the worst flood in Appalachian history. Certainly it is the worst flood this generation of Kentuckians has ever seen.

At least 33,000 have no electricity. Mudslides have made roads impassable. Hundreds of businesses and homes have been wiped off the map. Or swallowed.

Many people are still missing. Elderly people with dementia. Young fathers and mothers who never made it home from work. And lest we forget, the multitudes of pets.

And yet, the destruction isn’t the story here. Because even though the Eastern portion of the state has turned into mud soup, the Kentucky spirit hasn’t.

“These people are tough as rocks,” said one EMT. “I’ve never seen nothing like it. These people are rescuing their ownselves. Makes me proud to be a Kentuckian.”

There have been around 98 reported rescues by emergency crews. There have been exponentially more conducted by ordinary civilians and neighbors.

The Samaritans have been arriving from all parts of the state. They call them the Bluegrass Navy.

They are men and women in all-weather hunting gear, towing fishing boats. Guys in camo caps, driving Fords and Chevys, who usually skin bucks or gut bass on the weekends.

These are people from the hollers and the backwaters of Kentucky. People who are consistently misrepresented and stereotyped by Hollywood journalists in too much makeup. The media elite doesn’t even try to understand them.

Which is why America will hear mostly about damage and the death tolls.

Well, it’s only too bad we don’t get to hear more about these exceptional people.

And yet here they are. Doing the work. They are resourceful. Community oriented. Selfless to a fault. They embody the Appalachian spirit.

They are loggers, truckers, preschool teachers, deliverymen, nurses, school librarians, janitors, construction workers, pipe fitters, preachers and restaurateurs. They fly under the radar. They keep a low profile.

They aren’t famous. They aren’t trendsetters. They don’t own four-car garages. They don’t wear neckties to work. And most of them carry at least one tow rope in their vehicle.

In Whitesburg, they arrived in Tracker boats, jet skis and driving ATVs. They performed impromptu rescues, removing victims from submerged homes.

Ninety-eight-year-old Mae Amburgey was one such victim, rescued from one such home. Her living room was standing in four feet of muddy water.

In Hindman, the boys and girls basketball teams were up at the high school, serving hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and bottled waters until the wee hours.

Teddy Lacy, from Clay City, spontaneously set up a grill in the Walmart parking lot and cooked for the masses. “If you know anyone hungry in Breathitt County, send them to me,” he posted on Facebook.

Darren, a local UPS guy was busy getting ready for work when he heard about two women who were trapped in their homes. Darren sprang into action. When he showed up along with a posse to rescue the two women, he was still wearing his UPS browns. “Special delivery, ma’am.”

There were grills everywhere. Free food at every fourway stop. Outboard motors galore.

“There are guys out there chainsawing trees,” said one man with the National Guard. “They’ve been at it for days without sleeping. There are some strong folks in these mountains.”

These people are not like other people. They are not merely made of muscle and blood. They are more than skin and bones.

These are individuals made from the same granite and iron with which the Appalachians themselves were formed. These are people who continually show the rest of the world how to endure tornadoes, famines and floods.

They hail from Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, Clay and Perry counties.

“We are Kentuckians, by the grace of God,” says Ron.

And in the name of God, they will take care of their own.

44 comments

  1. Leigh Amiot - August 1, 2022 10:09 am

    I’m not one bit surprised to hear of all who have stepped up in this emergency and helped themselves and their neighbors. Those who “skin bucks and gut bass” are in my DNA. I appreciate the respect you give them, and don’t appreciate any contempt sent the way of the men and women who do the hard work in our country.

    Heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones and prayers for the survivors. Thank you, Sean, for remembering all of these people after the news cycle moves on.

    Reply
  2. Judy - August 1, 2022 10:12 am

    We are Appalachian born and raised. We are from these mountains that give us strength and awe. Never underestimate our resilience and love of God.

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  3. Steve McCaleb - August 1, 2022 10:47 am

    Absolutely no SUPRISE here. These are not only good people….they are among the toughest individuals on this planet. When you are looked down on, the butt of stupid jokes and stereotyped as less than human it puts a hard bark on you. Check their DNA, I think you’ll find it’s a combination of hard times, coal dust, fried squirrel and a stubborn determination unmatched anywhere. And they won’t go crying and feeling sorry for themselves They’ll do what the people of the American South have done for generations…they’ll mourn their dead, comfort and aid the survivors then cinch up their britches and do the best they can with the aftermath. God bless Kentucky.

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  4. Howard Humphreys - August 1, 2022 11:06 am

    I lived in Ashland Kentucky for years and I know the people of Eastern Kentucky are strong..They will get through this disaster….Prayers from Austin Texas where all our family now lives..

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  5. joan moore - August 1, 2022 11:30 am

    Bravo!

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  6. Kathie - August 1, 2022 11:30 am

    A beautiful, heart-warming post. Thank you, Sean.

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  7. Anissa Beard - August 1, 2022 11:53 am

    Really enjoyed this column. This is the best part of America.

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  8. Naomi Smith - August 1, 2022 12:08 pm

    My sincere prayers for the people of Eastern Kentucky. May God heal their hurting hearts, and strengthen their bodies so that they will be able to continue to do the work that faces them. Comfort those who have lost loved ones. Bless all of the rescuers who are giving selflessly of their time and resources. May God bless them all.

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  9. April - August 1, 2022 12:15 pm

    God please bless my old Kentucky home and my family.

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  10. Pat Deas - August 1, 2022 12:20 pm

    Well said Mr. Dietrich…..Well said !

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  11. Kim Locke - August 1, 2022 12:44 pm

    God be with those in need and with those who are providing care. May this post go national and let all of America see the strength, selflessness and love happening during this time of tragedy.

    Reply
  12. Paul McCutchen - August 1, 2022 12:57 pm

    They don’t need to be praised in front of a camera, all they want is to help their neighbor in their time of need. God bless and watch over Kentucky and their people.

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  13. Priscilla Rodgers - August 1, 2022 1:03 pm

    Thank you for getting the word out about these true American heroes. May God bless them.

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  14. Karen - August 1, 2022 1:05 pm

    No one has an agenda other than to help. Politicians need to follow their lead. I am thankful for these mighty men and women.

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  15. Susie Flick - August 1, 2022 1:17 pm

    Prayers and strength to all impacted by this flooding and I salute every one helping in the best way they are able. Stay strong and continued good vibes heading that way.

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  16. Carol - August 1, 2022 1:31 pm

    God Bless them All 🙏🙏🙏✝️❤️

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  17. David Britnell - August 1, 2022 1:36 pm

    My heart goes out to the people of Kentucky, especially the ones who lost family and friends. God bless them all and comfort them.

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  18. Ann Mills - August 1, 2022 2:57 pm

    Just like the people of Mayfield. God bless, and thank you.

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  19. Nancy Carnahan - August 1, 2022 3:19 pm

    I like Kentuky. We visited there the last two summers. Beautiful country to match its beautiful people. Prayers for everyone.

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  20. Patricia Gibson - August 1, 2022 3:21 pm

    God bless them! Brings tears to my eyes. So proud of these folks.

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  21. Helen De Prima - August 1, 2022 3:37 pm

    Thank you, Sean!, for making those brave folks real! I’ve walked those hills and floated on those waters, a beautiful landscape which can turn on you like a vicious dog.

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  22. Darlene Anderson - August 1, 2022 3:54 pm

    God bless all the people who have been affected and all of Gods servants. Thank you Sean for sharing what the news doesn’t find necessary to report on.

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  23. LIN ARNOLD - August 1, 2022 3:59 pm

    Thank you for the “back story”. I wish I was about 30 years younger. I’d be on my way, too. I’m very good at cooking for the masses with whatever I can scrounge up. But this retiree no longer has the money nor the stamina to be of much help. God Bless All Those That Can Do That!!!

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  24. terifb - August 1, 2022 4:03 pm

    PLEASE…don’t ever stop writing.

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  25. Martha - August 1, 2022 5:13 pm

    I also saw that the Cajun navy was there too. Good people.

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  26. Billy Moore - August 1, 2022 5:40 pm

    Thank you for this piece, Sean! We need to be reminded that most Americans are just plain good people! Thank goodness.

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  27. R Clements - August 1, 2022 6:06 pm

    Think about walking in those Eastern Kentucky folks shoes today! As my brother said yesterday when he thought he had it bad when he got up to a flat tire yesterday morning.

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  28. Ken Pierpont - August 1, 2022 6:19 pm

    I married a girl from Kentucky and wept my way through this one.

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  29. Diane & Lindle Pogue - August 1, 2022 6:35 pm

    Absolutely LOVE these kind of stories that don’t make the HEADLINES. After church yesterday my wife & I headed to Sam’s bought bottled water, toilet paper, other drinks etc., and took them back to Hillview Church where we now attend. Our church is going to send a big truck loaded down with supplies from here in Bowling Green to one of the area churches up in Eastern Kentucky to distribute. Just trying to do our part after all the outreach from mostly Kentuckians who showed us the same back when we had the bad tornadoes strike here in Central Kentucky.

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  30. David S Doom - August 1, 2022 6:37 pm

    Amen

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  31. lee - August 1, 2022 6:46 pm

    God bless all of you

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  32. Pat - August 1, 2022 6:48 pm

    Prayers ascending for all those affected, including those who are the to help. Prayers for you for always seeing the good even in the darkest moments.

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  33. Jackie Clements - August 1, 2022 7:26 pm

    God bless all of these Good Samaritans helping in all of the ways they can. Our prayers go out to all of the families that have lost loved ones, homes and possessions.

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  34. Rose - August 1, 2022 7:36 pm

    You say the media doesn’t try to understand them and yet I’ve seen dozens and dozens of stories by hardworking reports and journalists, on the ground, helping where they can, listening to and reporting the stories of ordinary Kentuckians and others who’ve come to help. I’ve probably seen at least 8 stories about 9-year-old Mae. ANother story this morning showed rescuers pulling people – including a 78ish-year-old – through a window of their top floor. Reporters work hard and put themselves in harm’s way at times in order to tell people’s stories.
    Prayers for all those affected by the flooding and with a hearty bravo to all who are helping.

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  35. Anne Arthur - August 1, 2022 7:44 pm

    Blessings and honor to those great folks. And to you, Sean, for reporting the real thing without makeup.

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  36. MAM - August 1, 2022 8:55 pm

    Thank you for giving the brave and honorable Kentuckians their just due, Sean! They are doing what we all should and can do when disaster hits our neighborhoods. May God be with those who lost loved ones! And may He keep the survivors safe and strong.

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  37. Linda Moon - August 1, 2022 11:59 pm

    The flood in Kentucky…I can’t describe how all the loss of lives and destruction makes me feel. And, thank you, Sean for telling stories of these Appalachian folks. I love them and your telling of good people in many of your Sean of the South posts. By God, you’re good too.

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  38. Rose - August 2, 2022 12:37 am

    I just read the most wonderful on CNN about a Kentuckian who rescued three children and two women who lived nearby. No boat; he and his wife waded through the water to get them and take them home with them. Then he thought of two of his former teachers who lived nearby so he went and rescued them, too. Such remarkable, selfless giving!

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  39. Donna W - August 2, 2022 2:10 am

    These are the kind of people our country needs more of these days. The backbone of America. Hardworking, honest to goodness good people. Heroes. May God bless them all.

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  40. Sandra LAW - August 2, 2022 11:54 am

    Perfection.. Thank you again Sean!!

    Reply
  41. Melissa Norman - August 2, 2022 12:26 pm

    Real Americans don’t wait for the government to arrive. We take care of our own. God Bless America and Kentucky! We are praying for you all!!!

    Reply
  42. Kim Morris Ladoczky - August 2, 2022 1:28 pm

    This is our America… not what you see on news.

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  43. George Bailey - August 2, 2022 6:23 pm

    This is great Sean. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  44. Rose - August 2, 2022 8:40 pm

    This story from the news captures the strong social fabric and familial culture of the area. It helps those from other areas to better understand the strength and resiliance of the people in the Appalachia area.
    https://apnews.com/article/floods-kentucky-weather-trending-news-d69d05c46c3d2032188f87be15213c75

    Reply

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