Spring Issue 2023

High Water Is Hell

By Jared Hamilton

Editor’s note: Clicking on the photographs grouped together provides additional contextual information written by the author.

On July 28th, 2022 Eastern Kentucky experienced what felt like a year’s worth of rain in just a couple of hours. The wreckage left in the storm’s wake devastated the region I call home. I received a text from a friend at 2:00 a.m. checking on me. I was in Lexington visiting a family member at the hospital. When I awoke the next morning, I realized what happened. I skipped my hospital visit and drove back towards Letcher County as quickly as I could because a friend needed help. It took all day to get there due to the high water over the roads. The water had gone down by the time I arrived, but the mud on the road was two feet deep. I didn’t take a single photograph for seven days. I was too busy passing out supplies and trying to help my friends.

According to Fox Weather, at least 39 people died in the flood. Countless people lost their homes, vehicles, and everything they owned. Everyone I talked with would say that other people had it worse than they did. This is just how we are around here. It’s part of our independent spirit. Even when we are hurting, it is in our very nature to want to help our neighbors.

The truth is, anyone that was touched by the flood was hurt. Anyone who knows someone who was touched by the flood was hurt. That storm brought great trauma to this area, and yet amongst all the devastation was a glimpse of beauty in how our communities rally together to take care of one another.

When I learned that the New York Times was in town documenting the flood, I reached out. I knew the situation was bad, but being in fight-or-flight mode I never thought it would make national news. The newspaper agreed to let me do the project on black-and-white film. Since then, I have been documenting flood recovery for multiple publications. I plan to eventually publish a book of this body of work titled High Water Is Hell, Brothers and Sisters.

Floodwater covers the campground at Carr Fork Lake days after the flood
Of the hundreds of homes wrecked by the floods, many were washed away completely, including three in the clearing where Vanessa Baker lived alongside members of her extended family.
Poem courtesy of Jared Hamilton
A home in Millstone, Kentucky that was destroyed as it was carried down the creek by floodwater.
An unused mine site above Lost Creek in Breathitt County.
Poem courtesy of Jared Hamilton
Jonathon Daugherty and Sherman Noble unload a generator while working on their homes, which were affected by flooding in the Leatherwood area of Lost Creek, Kentucky.
Clothes drying on the line at the home of Dewey and Debbie Bradley in Thornton, Kentucky. While this method of drying clothes strikes a chord of nostalgia for many Appalachian folks, the Bardleys don’t normally use these clotheslines. Floodwater reached into their home and destroyed many of their belongings and modern utilities.
Poem courtesy of Jared Hamilton
Tents set up where a home used to sit in Millstone, Kentucky.
From left, Wayne Harvey, Rita Napier, Lisa Napier, Wanda Adams, Jonathon, Napier, and Louise Fugate move plywood into the home of a family member who was affected by the flood.
Poem courtesy of Jared Hamilton
Wade Neace has spent a lot time helping to clean and repair Drushal Memorial Church where be has been a member most of his life. Neace also attended Riverside Cristian School in his youth, which is part of the church. Both the church and school were flooded on July 28, 2022.
A dog who survived the flood.

Jared Hamilton is a documentary photographer raised in Eastern Kentucky. They currently split their time between Pikeville and Whitesburg. Jared's goal as a photographer is to show Appalachia in a way that makes folks from the area feel seen and heard. Their works shows the beauty and grit of the region in a way that only someone with a deep understanding of the culture could.