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Losing their homes and possessions to the flooding that engulfed Knott and Letcher counties was catastrophic enough for scores of eastern Kentuckians digging through the wreckage that was their lives. 

Forget about the up-and-down coal industry’s decline over the last three-plus decades. These residents are focused squarely on the present, processing their immediate circumstances, and how they will make it to tomorrow.

As reported by the Associated Press, Evelyn has nothing left following last week’s devastating flood that tore through Knott County, saving only her grandson’s mud-covered tricycle. At age 50, Evelyn had to watch as her rental trailer was swept away by the fast-rising – and aptly named – Troublesome Creek. Evelyn is also disabled, suffering from a chronic breathing disorder, and doesn’t know what her next move will be.

According to CNN, eastern Kentucky is made up of hills and “hollers,” or narrow valleys formed from streams cutting through the striking Bluegrass State landscape. But those steep slopes are also prone to unstable landslides, leaving the valleys and the unprotected residents living within them exposed to catastrophic flash floods. Residential construction in those hills could actually mitigate flood risks and casualties, but the reality of doing so is extremely expensive. 

“People have very little choice except to live in floodplain areas,” explains Bill Haneberg, state geologist and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey at the University of Kentucky. “ But when historic levels of rain began to fall last month, the creeks in the valleys swelled into raging, overflowing rivers, shoving already unstable homes off their foundations. The floodwaters then washed out dirt roads, taking out small bridges, and some residents even lost their vehicles to the rage, stranding many of them where they stood. 

Evelyn, like many others in this rural area, has local roots that run deep. Her family has called Knott County home for five generations. They have cultivated relationships and connections that stand the test of time, even as the area became awash in poverty with the persistent loss of coal industry jobs. At this point, however, Evelyn has no insurance and is left unaware what she will do next. 

“I’ve cried until I really can’t cry no more,” Evelyn said. “I’m just in shock. I don’t really know what to do.”

“Local roots that run deep.” “…cultivated relationships that stand the test of time.” Sounds like a perfect fit for community-oriented credit unions, don’t you think?

NorCal community facing recovery after town left in ashes

As wildfires abound from California to Alaska, the 2022 wildfire season is off to an ominous start. It is a violent sign of what may be another record-breaking season in the United States. 

July has already seen two million acres burned, and that’s just in one month. Fires in Idaho, Utah, and California are threatening tens of thousands of communities and livelihoods. As reported in Science Daily, many of those residents are at-risk or lower-income Americans who are facing canceled homeowner insurance policies and rising premiums, according to research out of the University of Georgia. 

In addition, a study in Forests Journal found that counties with moderate-to-high wildfire risk are more likely to have high poverty rates. Many of these counties reside in states dominated by a handful of insurance companies. Homeowners’ options in these regions can be limited if they need to replace a policy that has been discontinued. To add insult to reprehensible injury, many commercial insurers are actually fleeing wildfire-prone areas, greatly lessening the competition and market equality that have historically kept premiums manageable.

Matthew Auer, lead author of the Forests study and dean of the School and Public International Affairs, adds “The overlap of wildfire risk, poverty and concentrated insurance markets should get people thinking about policies and interventions to help the most vulnerable homeowners.” 

Circumstances are getting downright dangerous for low-income Americans in these regions. The largest and deadliest blaze in the state of California this year at 60,000 acres [as of August 10)], the McKinney wildfire near the California-Oregon border left only ashes for the small 200-person hamlet of Klamath River, according to The Guardian. Most of the homes and businesses are gone, several thousand people are still under evacuation order, and four deaths have been confirmed. 

“It’s very sad. It’s very disheartening,” says Roger Derry, a Klamath River resident who, along with his son Rodger, have lived in Klamath River for more than 40 years. “Some of our homes, 100-year-old homes, are gone. It’s a small community. Good people, good folks live here and in time will rebuild. But it’s going to take some time now.”

The father and son’s home was among the very few that were spared the ravages of the inferno, and they know how fortunate they are. They saw the walls of fire up close. “When that fire came over the ridge line, it had 100-foot flames for about five miles and the wind was blowing. It was coming down like a solid blowtorch. There was nothing to stop it.” 

The fire destroyed most of the homes including those in the nearby trailer park, along with the post office, community hall, and a myriad of local businesses. 

Photo: Malachi Brooks | Unsplash

Victims need help from credit unions now, not “as soon as we can”

The penalties of these annual megafires go well beyond the cost of damages, as health costs and indirect losses due to energy shut-offs, business losses, supply chain disruptions, and more continue to rise. In 2020, a team of researchers studied the nationwide impact of California’s wildfires alone and estimated that its economic damage to the U.S. as a whole totaled $148.5 billion, an inferno of losses that has only continued to grow.

Studied more locally, catastrophic wildfires take a large economic toll on communities through property losses, decreased tourism, and even changes in the long-term structure of the local economy. These developments will do nothing but place further financial stress on local residents and the economy for which they contribute their hard-earned income.

By partnering with local credit unions, QCash’s Financial First Responder Loans can be the immediate difference for shell-shocked families who have to take that difficult first step from the life they had to the future they need to build one more time. 

Whether it’s Evelyn in eastern Kentucky financing her next home or the devastated families of Klamath River in northern California, they know disaster can strike any time. Now credit unions can offer a Financial First Responder Loan for as long as the crisis exists. Regardless of the flood, wildfire, health or economic emergency, with the QCash digital Life Event Loan, credit unions can offer accessible funds when and where members need it, with the approved amount deposited in their account within 60 seconds.

These are difficult months for many residents in rural, low-income communities across the nation, especially for those located in ever-drier and brittle regions ripe for annual wildfires. Give them the security they need with easy access to affordable digital loans with QCash.