Extreme heat complicates recovery efforts in Kentucky after major flooding

Eastern Kentucky is facing a new danger after last week's devastating floods. Relief workers on Wednesday labored in heat indexes climbing to 100 degrees, as clean-up operations continued. More than 400 national guard troops are also deployed across the region to help residents. Misty Thomas, executive director of the Western Kentucky chapter of the Red Cross, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Residents in Kentucky are beginning to clean up the damage and debris from the flash flood that submerged more than a dozen counties in the eastern part of the state and parts of Appalachia.

    John Yang has an update on the relief and the recovery efforts.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, more than 400 National Guard troops are deployed across the region to help residents, many of whom are displaced, their homes ruined. And they're facing enormous challenges.

    And, today, those challenges include triple-digit heat and oppressive humidity. Relief groups are also heavily involved, including the American Red Cross.

    Misty Thomas is the executive director of the Western Kentucky Chapter of the Red Cross. She joins us now from Lexington.

    Misty, you were in Eastern Kentucky earlier this morning. We have all seen the pictures on television and in newspapers, but you were there. What is the sense you get by being there that pictures don't necessarily transmit or give the rest of us?

  • Misty Thomas, American Red Cross Kentucky Chapter:

    It's different when you drive into the actual impacted areas. There's a real tangible feeling of sorrow that you take on.

    And the people are carrying it on their faces and as they're working to clean up their houses and just working to move forward in recovery. You can feel that sorrow. But it's interesting, in this disaster, one of the common themes that I'm hearing from even our Red Crossers and the locals there is how much compassion and love that they're showing each other and how much they're showing up for each other.

    So it's been heartwarming and sorrowful at the same time when you're in the atmosphere.

  • John Yang:

    And in terms of your on-the-ground response right now, what's the greatest needs you're trying to address? And what are the greatest challenges to addressing those needs?

  • Misty Thomas:

    So, in our response phase, as the American Red Cross, we're working to make sure that we're providing safe shelter.

    We saw right at 470 people come into shelters last night. We have almost 300 volunteer Red Cross volunteers on the ground. So we're providing that shelter component. We're also making sure that we're feeding. But we also have the community is bringing in those in-kind donations. So those shelters are an acting as a distribution point as well.

    And then we're also — as American Red Cross, we have trained volunteers that are health services. So we're making sure that, if any of those impacted have evacuated their homes so quickly they left medical devices behind, prescription medicines, eyeglasses, dentures, we're assessing those needs, and we're helping to fill those needs for them. We're getting those replaced.

    We also offer mental and spiritual care as well for our trained volunteers. And we just want to be that comfort and care that they can lean in on at this time in response.

    As far as greatest needs, those are the greatest needs.

  • John Yang:

    I know there are a great number of bridges that have been washed out by these — by this flooding. Are their houses, are there areas, are their neighborhoods that are inaccessible, that people may not be able to get to your centers?

  • Misty Thomas:

    Yes. I drove through the area today, and there is a neighborhood in the River Caney area that it's my understanding that you cannot get to it.

    But as I was driving through there today, I think the hardest thing I have seen so far I saw today, and the guardrails on our roads were acting as a strainer for the water, and it was catching the debris.

    And as I'm driving, I realize what I'm seeing is the roof of a house, an entire house collapsed and forced into that guardrail. And it takes your breath when you realize that that is someone's entire — everything they own is right there, and that guardrail caught it. We saw that multiple times driving out through that area in Breathitt County today.

    So there are reports that I have been given personally of terrain that has been washed out, inaccessible neighborhoods. I experienced some really rough terrain today getting to where we need to be in Hazard, Kentucky.

    So, the topography has been affected greatly. And there are many inaccessible roads. That has been reported to me.

  • John Yang:

    Eastern Kentucky is coal country. It is a very hardscrabble life there, even in the best of times a hard time.

    You talked about the sorrow, this hardship upon hardship now in that area. What's it like?

  • Misty Thomas:

    What I expected was that hard-hit heavyhearted sorrow, and it is there.

    But what I was refreshed in my own spirit with was just how compassionate and how resilient they are. And every person I have spoken to, even my Red Cross volunteers — I had one today I had deployed many, many times said: I have never been to a disaster where the community has come in and checked on their own people daily. We give them a list of things that they need. They bring it back immediately.

    And they just kept saying they love each other here. They're very compassionate about their recovery with each other. So, they really lock arms and they're walking forward, very resilient, very compassionate.

    So it's surprising to me, because, even in the worst of times, there's still a sense of pride and joy that they have for their community and for each other. So it's touching.

  • John Yang:

    Misty Thomas of the American Red Cross, we wish you, your colleagues, and everyone in Eastern Kentucky all the best.

    Thank you very much.

  • Misty Thomas:

    Thank you.

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