The CERH Family: After the Flood (Part 2 of 3)

One Year After Flooding Killed 45 People and Displaced Thousands More, a Community Comes Back Stronger

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

HAZARD, Ky. — During the last week of July, 2023, the Center of Excellence in Rural Health here in Hazard unveiled a banner honoring those who were lost in last year’s floods. They also hung scores of pictures that displayed scenes of the workers who helped save lives and homes.

“One of the concerns is, sometimes when people relive events it causes traumatic problems as well — depression, and just that worry about what did happen and what might happen in the future, it starts to set in,” said Dr. Fran Feltner, Director of the Center of Excellence in Rural Health. “So, I try to be very careful that we want to remember those that lost their lives, but we also want to celebrate with the ones that made it, and that came together to provide for those that needed it the most.”

And it seemed that everywhere you looked around the Center, and in every conversation you had, you’d notice that word — a word that’s been talked about a lot leading up to this one-year anniversary. It was featured on signs and stickers. It lets outsiders know what this place and its students are all about.


“Everyone down here’s roots grow very deep,” said Lee Hall, Academic Support Services Director at the Center. “They are willing to help their neighbors and go above and beyond and do anything. We saw people come together and work together to clean these houses up and remove debris. And you know, even just the sense of fight in our area, like the people coming together just to pray and be a shoulder for other people, it was beautiful to see that.”

During the week after the 2022 flood, strangers showed up to houses with bags of takeout food and cases of water for occupants and workers. Swimming pools were drained, with the water used to flush toilets. The clinic’s doctors were treating patients. Students, even though they were still working on academics, left the Center to go help clean people’s homes.

“The aftermath – no power, no water, no cell phone service,” said Josh Crank, a first-year PT student from Buckhorn, Ky. “Luckily, I lived up on a mountain, so it didn’t directly get to me. I was lucky. But Buckhorn is a very tight-knit community. There was a Community Center that everybody would go to everyday to help volunteer, give out water, clothes, food, furniture — anything everybody could possibly need. But it was hard, seeing some of the people come in that just didn’t have anything left … there’s nothing you can say to the people who have just lost everything they’ve ever known, but you’ve got to be there for them and try to help them any way you can.”

Paige Freeman, a first-year PT student from Corbin, and other members of her class, went to local schools to help children with a mental health service day.

“A lot of the kids had mixed feelings,” she said. “A lot of them had lost family members, lost their homes, and there are others that were trying to be as optimistic as possible. We talked to them about regulating their emotions and how they can try to work through what they’re feeling, and we gave them coping techniques. It was really positive, honestly — it was really fun to go there.”

It’s an example of how an area can affect a person — even if they aren’t originally from there.

Amanda Slater, a first-year PT student from New Jersey, actually moved in during the flooding — it resulted in her having to unpack during the daylight, because her new home had no electricity for several days. But her neighbors helped, providing water and other necessities.

It made her want to give back, too, so she and her family donated items to local groups to help.

“It doesn't matter where you come from you know?” she said. “Seeing people and their willingness to be compassionate, and their willingness to help others, no matter where they come from — even if they’re not from this area, just kind of takes you back a bit. You realize that we’re all deep down the same and we all just want a sense of community and the sense of willingness to belong and to support each other.”

“The resilience that we have here in Eastern Kentucky, across Appalachia basically, is the fact that we do come together when there’s trouble, or when we celebrate, we do come together and we hold each other up — we look to see what our needs are and how can we do that,” said Feltner, who is a native of the region. “So, any program that we have here at the Center is about serving the people of our community, whether it’s through our academic programs, our community outreach programs, or whether it's just one-on-one … that’s what we’re about.”

And it trickles down to students, who come from other states and even other countries.

“I think you learn what you see and if you have a good example of resilience, it’s going to catch on one way or the other,” Feltner said. “I’ve always thought in life that you learn from every lesson, whether it’s been a good thing that happened to you or whether it’s been a bad thing that happened to you. If you'll take the bad and the good and take lessons learned from those, you’ll be strong. To me, that’s what resilience is about. You may get pushed down, but it’s about how many times you get up — and who you help lift up in that process.”

Of course, there was help from people out of state, too, she said, and it was much appreciated.

“A lot of people did come from the outside in to help but nobody knows this community like the people that live in it, and when you see all the other outside agencies leave, we’re still here,” Feltner said.  


Read part 3 here.

Read part 1 here.