Eastern Kentucky attorneys form network to fight for flood victims

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Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 3:58 PM EDT
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PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WYMT) — A group of local attorneys has organized a network of resources, offering assistance to those who have been denied FEMA funding in the wake of the recent devastating flooding that hit the region.

The AppalReD Legal Aid hotline is working with lawyers closest to the impacted people, connecting them with one of more than 20 volunteer attorneys.

“We want people to know that, if FEMA turns you down, they may turn you down for a technical reason that could be easily fixed. And we don’t want people to give up,” said Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf. “You know, FEMA is not an insurance company, but it is a lifeline.”

He said flood victims may be eligible for up to $37,900 if their applications are approved, which is why he encourages appeals and a second set of eyes to help get them the money that could serve as at least a drop in the bucket.

“That won’t fix your problems for people who have lost everything, but people should definitely appeal,” he said. “And we have a network of volunteer lawyers looking after the people who have trouble navigating through the FEMA bureaucracy.”

The Red Cross reports at least 1,400 homes destroyed or severely damaged by the floods that poured through the region three weeks ago. Pillersdorf said that massive destruction and heartbreak has local attorneys looking for ways to help ease the burden on those affected.

“This is a catastrophic event. We are looking at the economic collapse of our region,” he said. “This ain’t gonna take weeks or months to rebuild. We’re talking years.”

He says those hard hits will continue to be felt, rippling out into more than just the people who lost everything.

“And if you devastate, economically, thousands of people, what does it do to the local economy around here? We’ve always struggled somewhat, but I’m really worried that this is a significant set back,” he said. “I’m worried about the economic future of this region. I think we’re gonna lose population.”

FEMA assistance is only part of the concern local attorneys share. Because, though many people are now left with nothing, the reality of their worlds pausing has not paused the bills from coming in.

“I’m willing to bet, of those 1,400 people, the vast majority owe money to lenders. It is totally foreseeable that those people will stop paying their lenders,” he said. “The reason you pay your lender is you want to keep a roof over your head. Well, your roof is laying in the creek next door.”

That inability to pay, according to Pillersdorf, will likely create a different situation in the months to come, piling onto the heaviness.

“I think, what’s going to happen in November, we’ll have another flood. A flood of litigation where these lenders start suing thees flood victims,” he said.

Legally, according to Pillersdorf, flood victims in that situation could lean on a defense called “force majeure.”

“What that means is, if there’s a catastrophic event, it relieves your contractual liability,” he said.

He said the network of attorneys is also available to discuss those issues in more detail with those impacted.

The AppalReD hotline will help make connections. You can contact the hotline at (844)478-0099.