These are our Mountains, These are our People

·6 min read

Aug. 2—Malva Crawford-Gorman began her story with her missing dog.

Following the torrential storms that left the eastern side of Kentucky underwater, Hazard resident Crawford-Gorman could not find her dog and was already assuming the worst.

After a day of searching, she received a phone call saying "Is your dog named Marley? We've found her."

Crawford-Gorman came to find out that her dog had taken shelter in the caller's home during the storm. The dog had found her way in through the hole that had been made by a rockfall striking the home. This is what pushed Crawford-Gorman to help.

"Let's go back. We're going to help these people. I don't know what it is. If we have to push mud. Shovel. It doesn't matter," she told her husband. "But I wasn't prepared for what I saw. The back end of the house was pushed forward."

"They still wanted me to have my dog. If that's not a 'love-thy-neighbor' moment, then I don't know what is," Crawford-Gorman said. "They've lost everything, but they wanted her to get back home as safe as she could. From that moment on, I thought 'I can't sit still.' The forgotten people is who we're trying to reach."

Crawford-Gorman and her neighbors have banded together to save the Mountains of Eastern Kentucky from the worst flooding they've ever seen in that region. She told of the incredible need for support.

"Ninety-five percent of our county does not have water. Over 50 percent have no electricity. So without these boxed hot dogs and hamburgers, there's no way to cook food, there's no water, there's no nothing," she said.

The infrastructure of Eastern Kentucky was not prepared to handle the storm. The people themselves don't have the capital to support themselves come an emergency like this.

"Everybody knows Eastern Kentucky has a lot of poverty," said Crawford-Gorman. "A person's car breaks down here, and people can't get it fixed because they can't afford it. There are houses and homes that have been handed down for generations that exist no more. A hundred years ago, they gave it to a child, and the child when they died gave it to its next generation, and so on and so on. and now a lot of those are gone. That legacy has been washed down and broke apart, and it's just heartbreaking."

Eastern Kentucky's roads and highways have been decimated by the storm, but government services cannot yet begin repairing the roads until they're sure that they are not disturbing remains. This has compounded the fear surrounding the event.

Said Crawford-Gorman, "I just feel like everybody's not been reached yet. Well I know they haven't because they're still doing rescue and recovery. We had six bodies recovered yesterday. There's over a hundred people still listed 'missing and unaccounted for,' so they can't come in and fix roads, because they're still looking for people. They're still looking for bodies."

She told of how, despite her familiarity with the area, there were still victims that were made inaccessible.

"We are Mountain People. We've lived in this terrain all our lives. But we've never been so unable to reach people. Even if it was in the head of the holler, you could drive. You can't even drive now. There's one place down towards Breathitt County, they say there's sixteen cars piled up in a creek. People have lost their cars. They have no cars," she said.

She went on to talk to about the trauma that the people face.

"Finding people on the side of the road. We would talk to people, and they would just stare at you. I think they're still in shock."

Despite the crisis, many organizations have risen to the occasion to send aid. Businesses like Don Franklin of Somerset have been shipping items to these people in need.

Crawford-Gorman told of how people are returning to Eastern Kentucky from all parts of the United States to help combat the flooding.

Said Crawford-Gorman, "Their first day of school was in Eastern Kentucky. Your first prom. Your first date. Your first football game. These are the memories that last you until the day you leave this earth. This is still home to these people. They still feel it. Somebody was saying, 'These are our Mountains. These are our People. and we've got to help.'"

Crawford-Gorman relished in the camaraderie of everyday people. These were the donations she relied on.

"We don't want one penny to go to an organization that has to pay a CEO. We don't want it to go to a CEO. We want it to go to those who people kind of forget sometimes," she said. "It doesn't matter what you have to give. Just knowing that you can give."

She talked about a group coming from Corbin who received a generous donation from a Kroger manager.

"I call them the Corbin Brigade. They came from Corbin. They had brought 130 cases of water, and when they were in the London [Kroger] buying water the manager of Kroger's came over and said, 'We see you're buying a lot of stuff. Is there something going on?'

"They said, 'We're going to Eastern Kentucky. We're going to go see people tomorrow.'

"The manager of Kroger's said, 'We'll give you forty percent off. You don't have to pay any tax, and you can use your Kroger card.'"

She and others have been raising money for food and taking in clothing and other essentials to ensure these people are taken care of. She had one story after the other of ordinary working people consolidating their power and pushing their community forward.

She told of a man who approached her after observing the team make meals.

"We're running out of food. We need a little bit of money," Crawford-Gorman told the man who had approached her. "I said, 'A thousand dollars buys 700 meals.' I thought he looked kind of odd towards me, and I said, 'I know that's a lot of money, and I don't mean to ask for all of that. Anything you can give, we would love it.'

"He said, 'I'm gonna give you two thousand dollars, and that's going to keep you in for the next two days of food. and I'll tell you what else I'm going to do, I'm going to be bringing food trucks in here. and we're going to feed two thousand people a day. You're never going to have to worry about wanting a donation, because we're going to bring it in,"" she recounted as she started to cry. "And I thought, 'Do you have wings behind your back?'"

Above all, Crawford-Gorman echoes the resilience of those around her.

"We're an army of survivors. We're not going to be victims. We're going to be survivors, and we're going to get through this. We are determined. This will not define us," she said as she fought back tears. "Our finest moment is what we do from here on out. We've got an army, and we're going to fight, and we're going to survive."