The death toll from the devastating flooding that hit eastern Kentucky last week has risen to 37, the state’s governor confirmed late Monday, with hundreds still to be found. Gov. Andy Beshear said refrigeration trucks are serving as mobile morgues to house bodies before they are transported to the medical examiner’s office in the state capital of Frankfort.
“We’re going to keep finding bodies for weeks, many of them moved hundreds of yards, maybe even a quarter mile or more from where they were last seen,” Beshear told CNN earlier in the week.
Efforts to find those still alive or recover bodies are hampered by high temperatures and the threat of another return of severe storms, which could bring more rain, strong winds and flash flooding.
Scores of bridges have already been destroyed, entire towns are under water and tens of thousands of residents of the mountainous region are still without electricity, clean water or connections to cellular networks. The governor said clean water was a priority and also confirmed that 12,000 state residents still had no power as of Monday.
At the same time, the resources provided by state and federal authorities are wholly inadequate. Few shelters have been established and many are sleeping either in their vehicles or on the ground. Only 14 emergency shelters are open, helping 483 people. Several displaced residents are also taking shelter in state parks, schools, churches and community centers.
Many residents rely on charity for food and help from neighbors and volunteers. Few, if any, residents have flood insurance to fix homes that have been inundated with water and mud or removed from their foundations, washed downstream and broken to pieces.
The victims that have been identified range from children to retired octogenarians. Among the dead are four children of the Noble–Madison family, 8; Riley Jr., 6; Neveah, 4; Chance, 2 – who were taken from their parents’ arms by the water in Knott County.
“A lot of people live in mobile homes, and those were absolutely trashed,” a disabled coal miner in nearby Martin County told The Associated Press. World Socialist Web Site. “It looks like someone holds back a river and there are whole hollows filled with water. Some families have multiple losses and many of the dead may not be found.”
Residents of the mining regions of Appalachia [una región cultural de Estados Unidos cerca de ciertas partes de las montañas Apalaches] they are used to flash flooding after heavy precipitation. Hilltop removal and other types of open-pit mining, as well as other environmentally damaging methods employed by coal companies, have long-term facilitated such disasters. Fifty years ago, on February 26, 1972, heavy rains caused coal sludge dams owned by Pittston Coal to burst, sending 132 million gallons of black sewage to residents of 16 coal-mining towns in the world. Buffalo Creek Hollow in Logan County, West Virginia, which killed 125 residents while 1,121 were injured and 4,000 homeless.
From July 26 through July 28, 7 to 10 inches of rain fell across parts of eastern Kentucky, with most of that occurring within a few hours early Thursday morning. The heavy precipitation was described as a “once in a hundred years” or “once in a lifetime” flood. Such events are assumed to have a 1 percent chance of being equaled or surpassed within a year. But as Hazard’s writer, Kentucky noted in the Lexington Herald Leader earlier this week, all flooding in the region “could be at this level.” In fact, the same week, storms in St. Louis caused 25 percent of the city’s annual rain to fall on streets within 12 hours, the most to fall on a city in more than a century. Las Vegas was also hit by “monsoon rains” and 71-mph wind gusts, flooding casinos and streets and knocking out power for 16,000 city residents.
Climate change driven largely by the use of fossil fuels is leading to increased frequency and severity of weather events in the United States and around the world. The warming of the atmosphere allows the sky to retain more moisture, something that leads to the fall of greater amounts of water when it rains. “This means that the risk of flooding is increased dramatically for much of the planet that humans live on, and Kentucky is one of those places,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Michigan, a Inside Climate News.
The US and NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine has been exploited by the Biden administration and capitalist governments around the world to increase the production of coal, oil and natural gas. Last week, Democratic Senator from West Virginia Joe Manchin made an unexpected turn and signaled his support for Biden’s supposedly groundbreaking tax proposal on health, climate and corporations. His vote was secured by a commitment from Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Congress would pass separate measures to renew permits for energy infrastructure projects, which would “easen the way for a project in which Manchin has taken an interest.” staff, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport Appalachian shale gas from West Virginia to Virginia,” reported the New York Times .
Eastern Kentucky residents have long suffered from the brutal consequences of American capitalism. Sixty years ago, Social Democrat Michael Harrington pleaded in his book, the other america, that the Kennedy administration address poverty in the ghetto slums, migrant labor camps, and coal mines of Appalachia. The “War on Poverty” and “Great Society” reforms, introduced by Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson, were defeated by the cost of the war in Vietnam and the growing crisis of American capitalism. Social reform had become a class war by the 1980s, as Democrats and Republicans joined in a social counterrevolution with the aim of stealing all the benefits earned by the working class over generations of struggle.
Coal miners, long the most militant and class-conscious sections of the American working class, were a primary target of this attack. The miners defied President Carter’s Taft-Hartley-based return-to-work mandate during their 111-day strike in 1977-78. For this reason, Reagan avoided a direct clash with the miners during the 1981 strike. Instead, the Republican president confronted and smashed a smaller union with no history of mass struggle, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), after assurances from the AFL-CIO bureaucracy that it would do nothing to oppose the government’s destruction of the union.
During subsequent strikes at AT Massey (1984-85) and Pittston (1989-90), the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union deliberately isolated and defeated striking miners to ensure “labor peace” and “competitiveness.” ” American. What followed was a massive restructuring of the coal industry, during which the UMWA collaborated with coal bosses and Wall Street sharks who took advantage of the bankruptcy courts to strip miners of their jobs, wages, and pensions. Today, eastern Kentucky, once a stronghold of the UMWA and home to the “Harlan County Bloody Coal War” of the 1930s, no longer has any union coal miners in the state.
In their ruthless effort to divide the working class and block a movement against the capitalist system, the Democrats claim that poverty and all social problems are caused by racism and “white privilege.” But a look at the flood-ravaged counties of eastern Kentucky, whose residents are almost entirely white, shatters these reactionary myths. Leslie County, whose 9,055 residents are 98 percent white, has a poverty rate of 40.64 percent. The per capita income in the county is $18,000. This is one-third of US per capita income of $53,504. The rest of the flood-affected counties also have chronically high poverty rates: Clay (35.88 percent), Breathitt (35.92 percent), Letcher (35.67 percent), Knott (32.37 percent) and Perry (27.5 percent).
Just as overwhelming poverty is the impact of the opioid crisis in Appalachia. In 2020, drug overdoses in Kentucky increased by 50 percent, meaning 1,964 residents died, according to officials. Another 16,352 Kentuckians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began due to the indifference of corporations and the political elite.
Democratic Governor Andy Beshear and the Biden administration, which are spending trillions of dollars on war and corporate bailouts, will do nothing seriously to address the crisis in eastern Kentucky or to compensate residents.
Ongoing climate disasters, as well as rising inflation, social inequality and the consequences of the ongoing pandemic, are driving millions of workers around the world into a struggle against capitalism and the sacrifice of human beings for profit. corporate. To fight, the working class needs an international and socialist strategy. Huge energy monopolies must be turned into publicly owned utilities and massive resources must be unleashed in the United States and around the world to switch to clean energy sources and ensure good jobs and living wages for all workers.
(Article originally published in English on August 1, 2022)