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.