Every morning before work my husband and I have a daily routine. This routine isn't anything special, mainly it consists of chasing our children around the house, frantically trying to dress them while pouring coffee, checking emails and rushing out the door for work. However, the morning of June 28th was anything, but normal.
We were woken up by the sounds of numerous calls and notified that many areas throughout Eastern Kentucky had suffered from a severe flash flood. One Place, was our place of work, the Appalachian Artisan Center located in Hindman, Kentucky.
Panic ensued as we rushed to the door. We didn't know what to expect, but knew by the sounds of everything that it was bad....Bad it was.
Typically, our morning commute is nothing more than a pleasant drive through the Appalachian Mountains, but not this morning. Every turn of the head felt like we were watching a horrific scene from a movie. People standing by the highway watching as their homes were engulfed by muddy water, rescue boats being deployed to people who still stood on their balconies in hopes of rescue, debris and mangled cars around every bend.
Once we finally made it into Hindman our jaws dropped. We knew by our commute that things within the Appalachian Artisan Center would be bad, but we had no idea of the scale of damage we were about to walk in to.
Windows were missing, flood waters were still pouring along the side of the street mixed with mud so densely that we could not see where was safe to walk. Concrete was tore beneath our feet and the roar of Troublesome Creek echoed through the Valley. This was the first time anyone could truly walk the streets of Hindman to assess the damage done. Sirens were blaring through the Mountains as rescue efforts were still underway.
Walking to the AAC doors to open it for the first time since the flood waters had devoured it put chills down our spines. We pulled the door open through layers of mud and carefully walked through over 1/2 foot of mud, broken glass and debris. The Dulcimer Museum which was once a staple of this Community and displayed proudly in front of the AAC was diminished to nothing more than shattered display cases with nothing to display.
Our Halls, which typically displayed Artist Exhibitions, now only displayed the water line that Mother Nature decided to leave.
Each of the Artists Studios were completely destroyed. These Artists who worked so hard to have a space to harness and showcase their creativity was nothing less than shattered.
Clearing the path toward the back, we had to move doors which were swept off the wall by the waters power. Crunching glass beneath my feet I finally saw what once was our Family Fun Night Room where the laughter of Children could typically be heard. Glancing into this room through the broken doors there was nothing but broken tables, chairs and pieces of projects in which had been left from the last Fun Night.
The Clay Studio was hit just as bad. Kilns overturned, shattered ceramic pieces, forms laying in the thick mud and destroyed pieces from our Artists laid throughout the entire area. We couldn't open some of the doors in the back due to something blocking it.
As we were assessing the disaster that laid in front of us one of our Artists who has a Studio there came to see how his Studio and equipment had done throughout the ordeal. He walked into his Studio and within a matter of minutes came back out and solemnly said, "Man, it's just all gone. All of it. Just gone."
What do you say to someone who has put their heart and soul into their work? Someone who has just dealt with such horrific community disasters to only find out that their place which they could express themselves was now gone too?
After a while of pure disbelief the reality hit me that we hadn't seen half of the damage. We still needed to see how the School of Luthiery and Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company had held up.
We left the Appalachian Artisan Center main building and headed to the School of Luthiery. We couldn't walk to the School, as we typically do, because of the amount of Debris. The city streets of Hindman are never really busy, so walking to the School or to one of the nearby facilities has always been such a nice treat after being stuck in the office all day. It was absolutely heartbreaking to know that it was impossible and seeing the benches, that were recently painted by volunteers, missing just made it worse.
The School of Luthiery did not escape the horrific flood waters by any means. Doug Naselroad, our Director of TCSIC, had spent the night in an apartment just above the School of Luthiery. We thank God that he stayed safe as the flood waters rose over night.
As I stood in front of the broken windows, displaced door and piles of what was once instruments, a neighbor came over to me. It was then, in that moment, that we realized how high the water had risen within the School. We knew it had to be high, because of the amount of water that had been in the AAC main building, but we couldn't have even began to imagine until she showed us a picture and we saw the window in which Doug was staying. She said, "We kept checking on Doug all night because it was as if the water would never stop. Every now and then he would stick his hand out that window and give us a thumbs up. That's how we knew he was alright. We were worried to death, I couldn't imagine how he felt."
Tears filled my eyes as I listened to her tell about the waters roar from the night before. I just kept looking through that door imagining the sound of our Master Luthier teaching one of the new guys or girls from the Culture of Recovery program. Hearing the stories about their experience making a particular Dulcimer or new design they were working on. Through all of the devastating damage I kept thanking God that the water didn't raise just a few more feet. Thank you, God, for not letting it raise any further. The damage of the equipment, instruments and structure can be replaced eventually, but there is only one Doug.
Moving onto our factory facility known as Troublesome Stringed Instrument Company we knew things were just getting worse. Troublesome Creek waters were still high, missing the bridge at the back of the facility by inches. We stood in disbelief on top of the road because we could see a water line that reach above the windows. These windows are approximately 15' from the sidewalk, so, seeing this line above those we knew the factory was in disarray.
We carefully crossed the debris filled bridge while the roaring waters echoed beneath our feet. Walking up to the doors we noticed windows missing, tables overturned and mud knee high. Inside, things weren't any better. The cafeteria were I had just had lunch with everyone the day before looked like it had been abandoned for years. The silence is what killed me the most. Typically, when you walk through the doors its so loud that you can't think because of the sounds of the equipment and the guys working to make a custom Guitar, Dulcimer or Mandolin, but today we only heard the suction of the mud on our shoes.
After trudging through the mud and debris for what felt like forever we made it to the factory doors. We knew that Doug Naselroad had to be in there already because the doors had been opened. Sure enough, sitting in the middle of overturned work benches, destroyed equipment and what once was beautiful guitars (now merely pieces of swollen wood), sat Doug taping his shoes together to be able to walk further through the mud. By his side was a girl, she had came in from Florida for an in person class at our School of Luthiery to learn to make an instrument, but never was able to finish. Instead, she came to help in any way she could, fighting her way through the muddy mess in hopes of simply helping in any way possible.
Through the darkness of the factory all one could see is the overturned work benches in which the guys typically sat to create beautiful instruments. The water line carried all the way through the factory just high enough to engulf every piece of equipment to the point of destruction. The smell...Oh, the smell from the finishing room was so strong that it would knock you down if you weren't careful. Everything was just gone.
Throughout the day we salvaged as much as possible, but that was very little. We were able to find a few Dulcimers that possibly could be saved if the odds were in our favor, but that was about it. We made several trips between there and the Appalachian Artisan Center while contacting everyone who worked with us to make sure they were safe. Thankfully, everyone did make it out safely, but two of our guys who work in the Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company factory did lose their homes and all of their worldly possessions.
This was the first day of many to come that we will be picking up the pieces. That is where we are now. It's been two days since first seeing what once was our beautiful facilities and I am still in disbelief.
It is with a heavy heart that I tell people of the state in which our beloved Appalachian Artisan Center is in at the moment. I pray that one day I will be able to look back on these days as nothing more than a memory, but until then it's time to work.
Through the support of our Community and Donors we will make it through this. We will one day be a place for Artists to create, but the answer as to when that day will come is unknown. We need help. We need support. People have already began coming out with shovels in hand, raking mud from the halls with squeegees, messaging us asking how to help and sending donations. For that, we are more thankful than can be put into words.
We have set up donations for the start of our clean up process on this page and also through a GoFundMe that I have attached to this page. To donate simply go to the top of our website or click on any of the pictures or Donate Now buttons throughout this post. Anything will help.
I ask, if you can, donate so that we can make picking up the pieces as smooth as possible. It will not be easy, we know this, but we hope that it will be somewhat fast so that we can once again be the Appalachian Artisan Center. A place that brings Artists from around the Appalachian Mountains together in one place where they can express themselves, showcase their work and learn. Help is not typically a word that anyone likes to use, but in this case that is what we need. Your help and support is what made this place possible and I know that it is what will make it whole again.