The trailers offer temporary housing as flood victims plan for the future

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PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — David Stevens’ children roamed the small patch of grass they’ve turned into a makeshift playground, running and laughing — seemingly without a care in the world.

Their father, however, is overcome with worry about the future. And he admires the resilience of his children, considering the losses and hardships they have endured.

When flooding engulfed their home in eastern Kentucky in late July, they moved into a motel for the first time. Now Stephens, his 8-year-old son, Loki, and 6-year-old daughter, Kerrigan, live in a travel trailer — taking their place among disaster evacuees in a recreation area filled with lawns, picnic tables, bicycles and games as people perceive some sense of normalcy.

“My kids are pretty tough and we’ve been through a lot,” she said. “We lost everything we had”

They are staying at an encampment in the state park, where trailers set up in long rows have become temporary homes for families trying to figure out how and where to rebuild after historic flooding that has killed at least 39 in the state. Some are still waiting for audits they hope will come from the federal government. Others have gotten their money but are stuck on waiting lists for much-needed carpentry jobs.

Fleets of tow trucks descend on the Appalachian region — some from western Kentucky, where they served a similar purpose for people who lost their homes when tornadoes struck in December.

Kentucky is receiving up to 300 travel trailer donations from another disaster-savvy state, Louisiana. Sixty-five trailers have arrived so far, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at a press conference in Frankfort on Thursday. The trailers were originally acquired to protect people displaced by Hurricane Ida in 2021.

In eastern Kentucky, about 300 people have moved into 100 trailers at various locations, with more on the way or being prepared on site for people still waiting, Beshear said. State parks in the area are still housing more than 340 people left homeless by the flooding.

“Getting the trailers is not our challenge,” the Democratic governor said. “They are safe places to connect. Is it electric? are the utilities. And we keep looking for more.”

The trailers offer a place where families can “spread out a little bit,” Beshear said. During a recent stop in Hazard, he saw trailers being set up in a park that offers a variety of recreational activities.

In the desperate days after floods inundated homes and washed 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 – getting people back into permanent housing.

The governor stressed that trailers are not a long-term solution to housing challenges.

“We don’t want these to be forever homes,” Beshear said. “Isn’t this the end? This is the middle. This is intermediate housing.”

However, some passengers expect to spend the coming holidays and at least part of 2023 in trailers. They are grateful for the temporary accommodation, but yearn for something more settled.

“Having your own place is good, but I’d rather it be like a house,” said Jordan Perkins, 31, who shares a trailer with his girlfriend along with their dog and cat.

He hopes a carpenter will start work on rebuilding his grandfather’s house, where he lived and worked as an IT specialist before the flood. His grandfather is staying with a family friend. With no internet service in the trailer, Perkins bought Blu-ray TV sets to pass the time.

“I wish I had internet and phone service,” Perkins said. “That’s really the biggest problem with being here. You are isolated. And people want it when they come here (to camp), but they don’t necessarily want it 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 engineer, is taking some time off.

“I never took a vacation,” he said, a beer in one hand. “It feels really good.”

Hall also bids time in a trailer until he reaches the top of the waiting list for carpenters to rebuild his home, where he also operates his business. Family and friends drop by to visit and he spends some of his time fishing in a nearby lake. The catfish have bitten, 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 walking his dog and listening to country music and news on his radio. He no longer drives, so a friend brings him food and takes care of his clothes.

He spent two weeks in his flood-damaged home until “everything started to take shape,” he said. Besides the lack of access to cable TV, Carr had two complaints about his new accommodation.

“I can’t let my dog ​​loose,” Carr said. “He always used to go out in the yard, play.”

His only other complaint?

“I have my American flag in there and I have nowhere to put it,” he said.

Several families in the area have already moved from travel trailers to other housing, and Stephens, 43, plans to do the same. He plans to move his children to another place with more space once he is ready to move.

Until then, his kids will continue to play outside their trailer, with bikes, scooters and other toys — all donated — scattered nearby.

“They’re good guys,” Stephens said. “I’m lucky.”

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