We’ll be updating this as we learn more and answer questions. Have something you want to know? Email us: community@southerlymag.org.

Hours of rainfall in Eastern Kentucky Wednesday night led to catastrophic flash flooding: At least one area may have seen 11 inches of rain. Hazard was hit hard, with nine inches in 12 hours. So was Whitesburg and Letcher County: “The north fork of the Kentucky River shattered its record crest,” as the Washington Post reported. “Rising to over 20 feet on Thursday morning, it easily moved past the record mark of 14.7 feet from 1957. The river level shot up 17 feet in less than 12 hours.”

Officials have confirmed 37 deaths so far and expect more. A federal disaster declaration has been declared for Perry, Letcher, Knott, Breathitt, and Clay counties. More counties may be added to that list. (Here are official resources from the governor’s office.)

Here’s why that’s important: Local emergency managers and public officials have to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to carry out a “preliminary damage assessment,” creating a cost estimate for the work ahead of them. This allows states to access federal aid. In extreme cases, the president may expedite a disaster declaration without having to catalog the full cost because damages are so widespread and severe. You can read more about how that process works here.

We’ll keep updating this page as things unfold.

Documenting damage

We don’t know when a federal disaster will be declared, but it’s important that you get your documents and photos in order for insurance claims and aid applications.

Only return home when it’s safe to do so

  • Do not attempt to drive through floodwaters, and don’t wade through them—they could be contaminated or contain dangerous debris. (Here’s more tips on how to return to your home)
  • If you have home insurance or renter’s insurance, you can apply directly through those companies. Federal disaster money can supplement these claims, and if you don’t have flood insurance, you can apply for aid through FEMA.
  • There are two different streams of assistance from FEMA: Public Assistance, which goes to local governments, and Individual Assistance, which goes to households. We have a disaster glossary defining acronyms and terms, explaining legal processes, and identifying which agencies are in charge of what.
  • Applying for aid can be a confusing process—especially if you’ve been displaced or your home has been damaged. You will need documents to verify everything from your identity to proof of residency and living expenses. 

Take photos of the damage

  • If you have them, gather photos of your house or apartment from before the flood, so that you can more easily prove your lost property value.
  • Get photos or videos of the outside and inside of the building, including damaged personal property, and label them by room before you remove anything. 
  • If you have insurance, take photos of the make, model and serial number for appliances.

Get your documents in order

If you can safely get back into your home, try to find these documents. Take photos or scan them, and get physical copies if possible.

Proving home ownership and occupancy: FEMA has expanded its list of documents: you can now submit a motor vehicle registration form, court documents, letters from social service agencies, schools, or bills for repairs on the property.  These documents need to be dated within a year. (For example, if you are applying for aid in 2022, your documents should be dated or issued sometime in 2021.) 

Proving tenancy at a rental unit: Tenants who may need aid for alternative housing or personal property loss must also provide proof of their address. You can provide a copy of your lease with your name on it, or utility bills such as gas, electric or water bills. FEMA might also require proof of income with a pay stub or tax form. If you will submit a driver’s license or other state-issued ID, make sure that it’s already been updated to match your current address—the ID card must be current at the time of the disaster, according to FEMA

Personal property losses: If you lose your personal belongings and property due to a disaster, you may apply for aid from your private insurance company or FEMA to replace or repair certain essential items that you owned: standard household appliances, furnishing, and accessible items.  Receipts and appraisals for valuable items may help you with both insurance claims and FEMA aid. 

Other documents you may be required to submit:

  • Mortgage statements, property tax bills, and utility bills can prove your total pre-disaster housing cost if you need FEMA to cover rental assistance. 
  • Keep your hotel receipts if you were forced to evacuate.
  • If you are on a visa, green card, or other form of legal residency, make sure to have copies of all your immigration paperwork saved as well

Start cleaning

  • Wear protective clothing: long sleeves and pants, rubber or plastic gloves, waterproof boots or shoes.
  • Take wet items outside if possible.
  • Clean hard surfaces and items with bleach and/or dish detergent.
  • Open doors and windows to air out your home.
  • Get mud and dirt out first.
  • Watch for sharp objects.
  • Remove all mold you see and try to dry as much as possible.
  • Throw away anything wet that can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours.

Find more information via CDC.

How to apply for aid

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is the federal agency in charge of aid after natural disasters. Here’s more about the agency.

Go on DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362 to apply. The agency will then decide on your eligibility for its different types of assistance.

Remember to document all your correspondence with officials and agencies.

Here’s guidance from FEMA on what to do:

How to get help applying for aid

Official FEMA registration centers

Five FEMA mobile registration centers are now open in Breathitt, Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties. You can go here for assistance applying. Hours for all the centers are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. You are not required to apply here—you can do so online or via phone.

  • Breathitt County
    421 Jett Drive, Jackson, KY 41339
  • Clay County
    Clay Community Center, 311 Highway 638, Manchester, KY 40962
  • Knott County
    Knott County Sportsplex, 450 Kenny Champion Loop #8765, Leburn, KY 41831
  • Letcher County
    Letcher County Recreation Center, 1505 Jenkins Rd., Whitesburg, KY, 41858
  • Perry County
    Hazard Community and Technical College, 1 Community College Drive, Hazard, KY 41701

Community resources for applications

Lawyers, community organizations, and residents are offering free help with applications. Here are some of them:

  • Kentucky River Area Development — Breathitt County (1137 Main Street, Jackson, KY 41339)
    Jessica Leedy and other employees are set up in a court room in the county court house.
  • Wilder Law Firm — Perry County (113 Lovern St., Hazard, KY 41701)
    Open starting Aug. 2 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday by appointment with Ryan Mosley. Mosley says you can PM him on Facebook to meet folks in Knott County at their homes and will help with insurance claims if you are denied coverage before your claim can be processed.
  • AppalReD Legal Aid
    Call 1-866-277-5733 if you have been denied FEMA assistance.

How to avoid fraud

There have been reports of scammers trying to get personal information and money from those wanting to apply for FEMA aid.

  • Ask for identification. FEMA staff and housing inspectors carry official IDs.
  • Call the FEMA helpline (1-800-621-3362), use the FEMA mobile app, or call your local sheriff’s or police office if you think you’re being scammed.
  • The Natural Disaster Fraud Hotline is also available to report. Before calling, gather as many details as possible, including about how and where it occurred: Visit ag.ky.gov/pricegouging (suspected price gouging) and ag.ky.gov/scams (scams) or call 502-696-5485

Looking for ways to support?

You can download, print, and/or share this flyer. We’ve printed about 1,000 to distribute in eastern Kentucky since the floods last week.

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