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The Red Cross is in Kentucky helping flood victims find food and shelter


In eastern Kentucky, more than two dozen people are confirmed dead in the flooding that has swept away roads, bridges, businesses and homes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The place we were staying at, the water got up to our back door. And I reckon it's in the parking lot, and it's in the building. We've lost everything.

MARTINEZ: The Red Cross has been assisting in about a dozen shelters set up for survivors. Misty Thomas is executive director of the Western Kentucky chapter of the Red Cross. Misty, welcome to the show. I know as part of Red Cross assistance efforts in eastern Kentucky, you visited some of the flooded communities. What have you seen?

MISTY THOMAS: You know, we've just seen a lot of devastation, a lot of homes. Where I was yesterday in Breathitt County, the homes - the water has receded, but the homes are just full of sludge and mud. And driving through communities and talking to survivors and ensuring that they know that we're here and telling them what we're offering to help and listening to their stories, validating their stories for them and just hearing those horrific moments of them having to evacuate their home, knowing that everything they own is gone and that their lives were in danger in that moment and that they were fleeing to safety. So yesterday, they were back in their homes, and they were taking these huge squeegees and just pushing the mud out the doors. And their yards were full of the debris from the inside, their lives, everything they own outside, piled up, completely destroyed. And it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to watch them have to go through that.

MARTINEZ: Is there any way those homes are usable? Because I know there's rain coming very, very soon. Any chance those homes are usable for that, at least - some shelter?

THOMAS: You know, some of the homes they could shelter in. There's no electricity and water in some of these areas. Where I was yesterday, the electricity was back on. So just depending on what that situation is for them, that will be to their discretion. But then some of the homes that we saw, there's absolutely no way they're going back in. So we're able to provide that sheltering need component for the communities. We saw about 550 people overnight across 16 shelters that we're supporting and partnering with other community members to have open. And we expect those numbers to increase in days to come.

MARTINEZ: What's the biggest need right now?

THOMAS: Sheltering, food. And that's that's where we're working. We just want to make for sure that people have a safe place to stay, especially with the expected heat coming. We want to make for sure that we have shelters open where they can find a cool place, a safe place to rest their head. We do have a shelter that is allowing pets. So that's a big deal for our families as we have a lot of people who - those are - that's part of their family. And so it's nice to be able to offer that, as well.

We're providing meals for them, as well, with - we have partners that we're partnering with to make for sure that's happening. And then we're also able to supply our - we have volunteers that are helping assess medical needs, mental health needs. And then we have volunteers that work as spiritual leaders in their realm of their professions that volunteer for us. So we're able to offer that shoulder to cry on and lean in on. And then our health assessment - if they had to evacuate and they left behind medical equipment or prescriptions or eyeglasses, we're assessing those needs and making for sure those things that they need for survival we are helping them restore right now in these moments.

MARTINEZ: I know that western Kentucky just was hit with tornadoes not that long ago and now eastern Kentucky with these floods. How's the Red Cross and your colleagues there holding up right now?

THOMAS: You know, we're a resilient group of people. And Red Cross is 141 years old. So we've been doing disaster for a really long time. And in that time, there's a lot of complexities. You know, we always say every disaster is different, and it is. So we've learned to swerve with those curveballs pretty smoothly. And we are - we're doing really well. And that's the great part about the Red Cross. Volunteers were trained to be able to be there and be that comfort for the survivors of the disasters we're working in. And they do that beautifully.

MARTINEZ: Misty Thomas is with the Red Cross assisting survivors in eastern Kentucky. Misty, thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.