Breathitt County flooding survivor during President Biden's visit: 'We need a helping hand'

Posted at 10:30 AM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 10:30:43-04

BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — President Biden spent much of Monday in Eastern Kentucky, touring the flood-ravaged areas hard hit a week and a half ago.

Shortly after the presidential motorcade pulled away from her home, Lena Shouse invited me in and told me her story.

Lena worked until right before the president came to visit and went right back to work after. She's been working around the clock ever since the waters rose nearly three feet into her home.

"I actually slept in my car a few nights because I was trying to get stuff cleared out until it was dark," she said.

Surrounded by her kids and grandkids, Lena told us she was honored to meet the president and glad he took the time to come to her corner of the world and take a close look at the damage.

"It just really hasn't sunk in... they came and told me he really is coming and I was like 'okay,'" Lena said.

The president promised Lena and the other survivors he met Monday they would not be forgotten.

"I promise you, the federal government, along with the state and the county and the city we're staying until everybody is back to where they were," said President Biden. "No joke."

Despite the mud, buckling floorboards, and belongings piled in and outside of Lena's house, she was stoic about what happened and already looking ahead to the future.

"We've got our lives; you've got one life," she said. "These are material things... this is my home, but I can't take it with me. We can get this back gradually."

Lena's son, Jared Neace, had his home float off the foundation. It nearly hit Lena's home before coming to rest on a bank nearby.

"The first thing that came to mind is 'what have I done to deserve this?'" said Neace.

Jared had just fixed up the home less than a year and a half ago after it was damaged in previous flooding.

He and his sister, Lenae Stacy, spoke with me shortly after getting an opportunity to visit with President Biden.

Breathitt County flooding survivor during President Biden's visit: 'We need a helping hand'

Jared says he had something important he wanted to tell the president about the strength of people in Eastern Kentucky.

"The thing about people here is that no one wants to take a hand out or look weak or anything," he said. "Everybody tries to be strong but sometimes you need a hand... a helping hand."

President Biden took that moment with Jared and referenced him during the press conference.

"One family, a gentleman, his trailer is all the way at the end of the property. Gone," said President Biden. "And, you know what? When I started talking about what we could do he said 'well, you know, we Kentuckians don't want to ask for too much.' Get this. 'We don't want to ask for too much. We're used to getting neighbors to help us out. We don't know that all the rest of you all should be doing this.' I said 'are you kidding me? Seriously.'"

Jared and Lenae say they are comforted by the fact that no one in their family died. They say possessions can be replaced, but they do have a message for people about the mountains.

"Some people say at times you might feel forgotten. Yeah, I would say overlooked. Like we didn't have much to begin with, so they are not gonna try to help us now."

Jared hopes the president means what he says about not letting them be forgotten, but he took comfort in Monday's visit.

"He shook my hand and hugged me and said it would be okay, and it made me feel better him saying that."