YouTube video

Editor’s Note: Next week the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder, will post the digital premiere of “East Kentucky Flood,” a half-hour documentary about the July 27, 2022, flash flood that killed 43 people and displaced thousands. This clip from the documentary features Gwen Johnson with the Hemphill Community Center in Letcher County. The program will have its statewide broadcast premiere 10 p.m. Wednesday, February 15, 2023, on KET, Kentucky’s public television network, and will air other times throughout the month of February. The entire video will be available for streaming on the Daily Yonder on Thursday, February 16, 2023.

When the roads finally opened in East Kentucky after July’s deadly flash flood, help rolled into the small mountain community of Hemphill from some unlikely sources, according to resident Gwen Johnson.

Along with customary donations like canned goods and water, a rental truck arrived full of coolers of meat and a new gas grill, Johnson said. Three men got out of the truck and started setting up shop.

“They said, ‘We’ve come to cook for you all,’” said Johnson.

And cook they did: hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, and even Spam, a mountain delicacy in the right hands.

“The next morning when I get down here, they say, ‘We got you breakfast over here,’” Johnson said. “And they fixed me up with a Spam sandwich on white bread. Now I really never tasted nothing tasted no better.”

The men seemed to be in especially good spirits, fueled by the joy of volunteerism, perhaps. Libation may have played a role, as well. 

“They stayed with us three days,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they drew a sober breath while they was here. They just kept on a-cooking.”

Johnson said the men disappeared as quickly as they came, leading her to call them “the drunk angels.”

“I mean they were unlikely-looking angels, but I really believe they were angels.”

Johnson’s story is part of a Center for Rural Strategies documentary detailing the efforts of several East Kentucky communities to recover from the July 27, 2022, flash flood that killed 43 people and left thousands homeless. 

The half-hour video has aired regionally and will air statewide on Kentucky public television network, KET, at 10 p.m., Wednesday, February 15, 2023. The video will be available for streaming on Thursday, February 16.

Johnson helps coordinate the Hemphill Community Center, which serves as an epicenter of recovery efforts in the former coal-camp town, also known as Jackhorn. 

Nearly a foot of rain fell on the region July 27, 2023, resulting in regional flood levels up to 40% higher than previous records. 

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.