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Whitesburg newspaper reporters cover historic floods while living through the disaster

A copy of The Mountain Eagle.
A copy of The Mountain Eagle.

The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., has covered Letcher County and the surrounding area for more than a century. When historic flooding hit about two weeks ago, the paper’s small staff and roster of contributors did what they’ve always done: tell the stories of the region and the people who live there. 

Sometimes that’s difficult to do, said publisher and editor Ben Gish. 

“Exhausting and emotional,” Gish said about living through the experience while reporting the news. “And I feel so bad for people who have lost everything. Everywhere you look… it’s unbelievable.”

Cathy Hicks, who helps out on days the paper comes out, said it’s all been surreal. She remembers going to Walmart a few days after the floods, and people were crying. 

“Everybody that was walking around there was shell-shocked,” Hicks said. “They were telling their stories and stuff, and by the time that I got out of there, I was torn up. It was awful.”

The Mountain Eagle’s flood coverage has included stories on FEMA applications, safe cleanup efforts, where to get supplies, community members leading the way on recovery, how people outside the region can help, and why floods are getting worse

Editor and publisher Ben Gish poses in The Mountain Eagle offices in Whitesburg on Aug. 10, 2022.
Editor and publisher Ben Gish poses in The Mountain Eagle offices in Whitesburg on Aug. 10, 2022.

Gish and his team of contributors have really dug into the role strip mining has played in flooding. One headline read, “An unnatural disaster.”

“There’s no place for the water to go but into people’s houses,” Gish said. “And all those huge corporations that came up here, made millions of dollars, they’re gone now. We’re left with what they left us with, which is no jobs and ruined topography and just a breeding ground for disasters like this.”

Listen to the full interview with Gish:

Gish took over the paper’s operations from his late parents, who had devoted their journalism careers to covering Kentucky. They bought the paper shortly before severe floods devastated the area in 1957.

“Which before this was considered the worst,” Gish said. “But this is 10 times that.”

The Mountain Eagle has been offering its weekly print issue for free since the floods. 

Gish said he’ll do that as long as he can. 

“I can’t go broke doing it. But I feel like we need to get the information out to people.”

Copyright 2022 WFPL News Louisville. To see more, visit WFPL News Louisville.

Stephanie Wolf comes to WFPL News from Colorado Public Radio, where she covered arts and culture. Her stories have aired nationally on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Here & Now. Before picking up a microphone and field recorder, Stephanie was a professional ballet dancer. She danced with Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado), the Metropolitan Opera, James Sewell Ballet and Minnesota Ballet. Stephanie graduated from St. Mary’s College of California through a program that allowed her to earn her college degree in conjunction with her performing career.
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