Floods in July 2022 have devastated the Kentucky senior center and the community, which already had been hard hit by the COVID pandemic.
Before talk of rebuilding, center staff are working to continue to meet the needs of local older adults.
The Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD) is accepting donations to help older adult flood victims.
Knott County Senior Center, located in an Eastern Kentucky community of about 14,000 people with almost 3,000 over the age 65,1 is in many ways a typical senior center. It’s the place where older adults regularly gather to have lunch, exercise, get information and assistance, take classes, and meet friends and socialize.
Yet in an area still recovering from the impacts of the COVID pandemic, devastating floods that hit Eastern Kentucky in July 2022 have put both the senior center and local residents back into recovery mode. Torrential rains that fell July 25-30 brought "deadly flash flooding, and devastating river flooding to eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia."2
How has flooding impacted Knott Senior Center?
Knott County was particularly hard hit by the catastrophic floods of July 2022. Homes were destroyed, including that of Senior Center Director Teresa Huff, who, along with her family, had to be rescued from the rising water. Roads were rendered impassable, with the blacktop broken up and the concrete in many bridges washed away.
Everyone has now been accounted for. But at least 37 people across Kentucky died in the flooding,3 including a Knott County participant who had been at the senior center for lunch just the day before.
During the flooding, water rose to the upper floors of the building that houses the senior center. As the water receded, it left devastation in its path.
There is question about the stability of the building’s foundation, and it was deemed unsafe to enter. It may be completely destroyed. At the least, based on previous experience with flooding, it could take a year or more to get the building cleaned and repaired for use.
How is Knott County Senior Center serving older adults in the flood's aftermath?
Beyond the immediate rescue situation, there is considerable effort to connect people with assistance, including applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief. With the center not available for use, staff are contacting people as best as they can and, after months of promoting awareness and access to COVID vaccines, are working to make sure people have up-to-date tetanus shots. The community has come together to support each other, and several area churches have stepped in to provide food and assistance. Everyone is trying to survive and to put together a path forward as the cleanup begins.
Stacie Noble, Associate Director of Aging Services at KRADD, said in August it was too early to think about rebuilding the senior center. They are working on a game plan to provide needed services, including meals. One idea is to work with a local restaurant, getting menu items approved that the area agency on aging can purchase and deliver. They are also looking into purchasing meals from a national provider. At this point, in late August 2022, many of the roads are still impassable, bridges are not sound, and homes have been destroyed, so senior center staff and volunteers are not able to deliver food.
A county recreation center could be a temporary spot for offering services to local older adults. KRADD officials are also mindful of the mental health impact of this disaster on older adults and on the staff. They are in constant contact with their clients and are partnering with community mental health services to provide information and referrals to support.
The Knott County Senior Center had not completely recovered from COVID. Now it faces an even bigger crisis. So many older adults lost their homes and, with the senior center, their second home. But, as senior centers do, Knott County Senior Center is part of the emergency response.
With the support of the county government, the Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD), the community, the state, FEMA, and the donations of so many people, they will continue on the long road to recovery.
What is the history of Knott Senior Center?
The Knott Senior Center was established in 1977 by the Knott County government (the fiscal court) as part of the Human Services Center. The senior center’s programs and services are a partnership with the county and KRADD, the regional area agency on aging. KRADD contracts the county to deliver Older Americans Act programs including nutrition, social services, and support programs like transportation, education, and evidence-based health promotion programs.
The senior center is in a municipal building shared by human services, the county police, and emergency services. Including the dining area and kitchen, it has been an important place to many of the residents of the community and saw 40-50 people a day before COVID hit.
How has the COVID pandemic impacted Knott Senior Center?
During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, the center focused on making sure people had food and were OK. The county and KRADD transitioned the nutrition program to a pick-up meal, which proved very popular, and they reached new people with it. They offered classes to help people access telehealth and connect to programs via technology. They continued some popular classes like the evidence-based Walk with Ease at a local sports complex.
Once conditions allowed, they began the gradual return to in-person activity. Among the first to return were the "pool guys"—a group of men who come daily to shoot pool and socialize. Some people were still more comfortable picking up their meals, and that remains an option. The Knott County Senior Center was on its way to recovering from COVID when the floods hit.
How you can help the Knott Senior Center and Knott County
If you would like to help in the recovery effort, KRADD is accepting donations to assist older adult flood victims with recovery, including replacing items they lost such as stoves/ovens, refrigerators, beds, microwaves, etc. Donation checks can be sent to: KRADD, 941 N Main ST, Hazard KY 41701, Attn: Senior Citizens Flood Victim Relief Fund.
1. United States Census Bureau. Quick Facts, Knott County, Kentucky. Found on the internet at https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/knottcountykentucky/PST045221
2. National Weather Service. Historic July 26th-30th, 2022 Eastern Kentucky Flooding. Found on the internet at https://www.weather.gov/jkl/July2022Flooding
3. Thomas Frank. Almost No One in Kentucky Has Flood Insurance, Hindering Recovery. Aug. 10, 2022. Scientific American. Found on the internet at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/almost-no-one-in-kentucky-has-flood-insurance-hindering-recovery/