PRESTONSBOURG, Ky. — David Stephens’ children had fun around the little patch of grass they turned into a makeshift playground, running and laughing – seemingly oblivious to the world.
Their father, however, is worried about the future. And he marvels at the resilience of his children, considering the losses and hardships they have endured.
When floodwaters engulfed their eastern Kentucky home in late July, they first moved into a motel. Now Stephens, his 8-year-old son Loki and his 6-year-old daughter Kerrigan are staying in a trailer – taking their place among those displaced by the disaster in a recreation area filled with lawn chairs, picnic tables picnics, bikes and toys as people grasp some sense of normalcy.
“My kids are pretty tough, and we’ve been through a lot,” he said. “We lost everything we had.”
They are staying at a state park campground, where the trailers set up in long rows have become temporary homes for families trying to figure out how and where to rebuild after historic flooding left at least 39 people dead in the state. . Some are still waiting for checks they hope come from the federal government. Others have gotten their money but are stuck on waiting lists for high-demand carpentry crews.
Fleets of trailers are descending on the Appalachian region — some imported from western Kentucky, where they served a similar purpose for people who lost their homes when tornadoes struck in December.
Kentucky receives up to 300 travel trailers donated by another state well aware of natural disasters, Louisiana. Sixty-five trailers have arrived so far, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a press conference in Frankfurt on Thursday. The trailers were originally acquired to house those displaced by Hurricane Ida in 2021.
In eastern Kentucky, about 300 people have moved into 100 trailers at various sites, and more are on the way or being prepared on site for people still waiting, Beshear said. State parks in the area are still home to more than 340 people left homeless by flooding.
“Getting the trailers is not our challenge,” the Democratic governor said. “These are safe places to plug them in. It’s electric; these are public services. And we keep looking for more.
The trailers provide a place for families to “spread out a bit,” Beshear said. During a recent stopover in Hazard, he saw trailers set up in a park offering a range of recreational activities.
In the desperate days after floodwaters inundated homes and swept away some, many people in the area took refuge in makeshift shelters in churches and schools. The trailers are part of a progression towards the ultimate goal: to get people back into permanent housing.
The governor stressed that trailers are not a long-term solution to housing problems.
“We don’t want these houses to be forever,” Beshear said. “It’s not the end; it’s the middle. It’s intermediate housing.
But some occupants expect to spend the upcoming holidays and at least part of 2023 in trailers. They are grateful for the temporary accommodation but yearn for something more stable.
“Having a place of your own is fine, but I prefer it to be like a home,” said Jordan Perkins, 31, who shares a trailer with his girlfriend along with their dog and cat.
He hopes a carpenter will get to work rebuilding his grandfather’s house, where he lived and worked as a computer scientist before the flood. His grandfather is staying with a friend of the family. Having no internet service in the trailer, Perkins purchased TV show boxes on Blu-ray to spend some of the time.
“I wish I had internet and phone service,” Perkins said. “It’s really the biggest problem to be here. You are isolated. And people want that when they come here (to camp), but they don’t necessarily want that when they have to live here.
Perkins was sitting outside at the state park campground with his new neighbor, Lyndon Hall. Having worked most of his life, Hall, a 57-year-old mechanic, takes time off.
“I’ve never taken a vacation,” he says, beer in hand. “It feels good.”
Hall is also waiting time in a trailer until he reaches the top of the carpenters’ waiting list to rebuild his house, where he also operated his business. His family and friends come to visit, and he spends some of his time fishing in a nearby lake. The catfish bit, he said.
A few doors down, Bernard Carr shares his trailer with his 13-year-old Chihuahua, Wiley. The 84-year-old retired carpenter and Marine Corps veteran spends his days taking his dog out and listening to country music and the news on his radio. He doesn’t drive anymore, so a friend brings him food and takes care of his laundry.
He spent two weeks in his flood-damaged home until “everything started to go moldy”, he said. Besides the lack of access to cable television, Carr had two complaints about her new accommodation.
“I can’t let my dog loose,” Carr said. “She was always used to going out in the yard and playing.”
His only other complaint?
“I have my American flag in there and no place to put it,” he said.
Several families in the area have already moved from travel trailers to other accommodations, and Stephens, 43, intends to do the same. He plans to move his children to another location with more space once he is ready to move in.
Until then, her children will continue to play outside their trailer, with bikes, scooters and other toys – all donated – strewn nearby.
“They’re good kids,” Stephens said. “I’m lucky.”