Recently, locals who helped take charge of flood relief efforts earlier this year addressed the Floyd County Fiscal Court on the need for the court to be prepared for next time.
On Tuesday, May 18, the Floyd County Fiscal Court held its regular meeting, during which Missy Allen and Prestonsburg Tourism Executive Director Samantha Johnson signed up for public comment. Both Allen and Johnson were two of the biggest driving forces in flood relief efforts after the devastation caused by the weather Floyd County experienced in March.
"Missy ( Allen ) headed up our relief efforts at the Floyd County Community Center after the flooding," Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams said. "For those of you folks that don't know, the effort that her, Samantha and other volunteers put in up there or around the county that helped out. I mean it's truly amazing."
According to Williams, he would go up to the community center on a random day and it would packed with supplies such as cleaning supplies, clothing and food. Williams said he'd go back the next day and he would notice the inventory would be down, due to all the all the people in need of assistance. However, the following day he'd return, inventory would be back up which he said is a testament to the individuals who not only volunteered time, but items as well.
Allen, who served as the CEO of Riverview Healthcare for more than 17 years before retiring last February, said she got involved with the relief efforts after seeing Johnson and her husband "running all over the place" in various Facebook posts as they were trying to help county residents who had been affected by the flooding. At that point, Allen said that she began reaching out to Williams and Johnson in order to establish a plan to set up shop at the Floyd County community Center so it could serve as the "center of operations."
"The reason I wanted to speak to the court tonight is because I wanted to let everyone know what we accomplished but there, because in a way, I feel like I was representing you guys when we there," Allen said. "We shut it down the week before last and I'm still getting calls for assistance and I actually went out and helped a lady this afternoon in Eastern, so we're still getting calls and trying to help people."
According to Allen, efforts began at the community center on March 5 and the biggest thing on which the county needs to work is coordination of services.
"You had people that didn't know where to go to get help and it's no one's fault, it just is what it is," Allen said. "We have all of these entities, we've got CAP, GAP, Red Cross, FEMA and Christian Services. We have all these people that are going around trying to help people and a lot of times we're doubling up. So my thing was, how do we coordinate to get services to people more quickly and more efficiently to those folks."
While working the center, Allen said that approximately 350 people showed up to visit. Allen said that, while there, she tried to get basic information from individuals just to gauge and see who the center was helping. According to her, most individuals came from Wayland, Garret, Maytown and Martin. However, she did add that there were some visits from Auxier, Allen and Allen said that she even got a call from a person living in Betsy Layne asking for assistance.
"We had people from just about all over the county that needed help, pretty well all over our county," Allen said.
Allen went on to thank all the church organizations, local businesses and groups, as well as individuals who just donated time or items to the efforts.
"I felt pretty good that we were able to help people and I felt very fortunate that we were able to care for the people in our region," Allen said.
According to Allen, she has receipts and a packet made to give to the court, in case there are any questions about what was done at the center. She added that she also had a physical inventory of what is left at the center, which she said is a "pretty good" supply for when there is a next time, because, "as we all know, there will be a next time."
According to Allen, she would love to see the county have an emergency preparedness committee that means either quarterly or semi-annually which has individuals and representatives from different entities, organizations and agencies so individuals can know what each of them do.
"To me, the Floyd County Community Center is the center of this county, but to me, it needs to be a command center," Allen said. "I think we should consider adding a generator, commercial kitchen, showers and laundry facilities. I had a lady come in three weeks before we shut down. She was from Wayland and had never been flooded before and she had told me that she had never had to ask for help before because she said that her church always were the ones to help. However, she told me that nobody did that this time because they were the ones who got flooded.
"How cool would it be if we had a spot that could fix a little meal every day for people?" she added.
Allen then referred to a time when a woman from Martin who came to the center and asked if there was any place she could grab a shower.
"How nice would it have been if we'd have had a shower?" Allen asked. "It's things like that, that I think if we want to be forward thinking because unfortunately we're always going to have disasters. I think we're blessed as a county to have that center and to be able to utilize it. But, how awesome would it be if there were a few things that we could add to it and make it that much better."
Johnson took the podium next and informed the court that there were just several things she would like to add to Allen’s sentiments. According to Johnson, she appreciated the court’s thanks. However, she added that she and Allen didn't come to the meeting to hear their praise, as they were more interested in what happens next.
"This was my first experience in Floyd County going through a flood. I went through one in Pike County many years ago, so I know what it's like to lose your home," Johnson said. "But, from what I gathered from talking to different people, was that it was not their first time. They said that this was worse than anything in the last 30 years, but not anything out of the blue.
"We learned way too much for us to not get better," she added.
According to Johnson, there were around 80 Floyd families who were staying in hotels due to being displaced from their homes during the flooding. She proceeded to outline the process they would go through in order to help those families whose homes had truly been destroyed, whether it was helping find them several changes of clothes or just a dry bed to sleep on.
Johnson said that volunteers were what made the efforts possible.
"Volunteers are wonderful but the thing we get too complacent is that neighbors fix the neighbors problem," Johnson said. "People were just ready for help."
According to Johnson a lot of the damage occurred in places other than downtowns, so that you wouldn't see them as you just drove through, but instead individuals needed to seek them out.
"The biggest thing we realized and we never said it to them, but people for just a moment realized that they matter to this county. What they were going through mattered. Them staying here mattered,” she said.
Johnson said that the county has to have a better plan moving forward and she added that she hopes more individuals will volunteer when the next natural disaster.
Williams said that he believes that a lot of folks don't realize the timing of all this. According to him, there were times he'd walk into the center and see "broken looks" on individual's faces. He then commended the work Allen and Johnson, as well as the others, for their work in helping changing people's lives.
"That says a lot about the folks here in Eastern Kentucky," Williams said. "We have to be forward thinking because we run into this stuff once a year, at least, and we're always scrambling. To be honest, with where we were, we were undermanned and if you guys and others didn't go out and step up to do this, we just wouldn't have had the people to do it.
"You guys were life savers," he added.
Williams said that an emergency committee is definitely something the court needs to look into and consider doing to prepare for future events.