How Journalists Used Comics To Clarify Landslide Insurance coverage Troubles In Kentucky

How Journalists Used Comics To Clarify Landslide Insurance coverage Troubles In Kentucky

This dialog originally aired within the April 16, 2023 episode of Inside Appalachia.

Jap Kentucky communities have realized firsthand concerning the intricacies of flood insurance coverage and authorities reduction after final yr’s historic flooding.

Some households are navigating a fair trickier course of attempting to get reimbursement for the landslides that broken their houses throughout the floods.

Kentucky reporter Austyn Gaffney just lately coated the subject for a comics journalism piece that was illustrated by Tennessee artist Martha Park. It was co-published by Grist, Bitter Southerner and the Financial Hardship Reporting challenge, and is titled, “Washed Away.”

Gaffney just lately spoke to Inside Appalachia host Mason Adams.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Adams: Are you able to inform our listeners a little bit bit about “Washed Away” and what it’s about?

Gaffney: Mainly, this story follows a household who dwell within the city of Busy, exterior Hazard in Perry County, Kentucky. Your listeners, I’m positive, have heard of final summer time’s flooding occasion that occurred in central Appalachia. Round midnight on July 28, the daughter shook her mother awake and was like, “I hear loads of rain exterior. What’s happening?” The mother bought up and she or he noticed {that a} landslide had hit the again of their house.

This isn’t the primary landslide that the household had been by. There was a earlier landslide with flooding in March of 2021. So that they acknowledged what had occurred. They instantly left and tried to get to Hazard, however the street was coated with water flooding off the mountain subsequent to them. They needed to flip round and return house and simply wait it out.

The explanation I wrote this story isn’t just as a result of they’d a harrowing expertise, but additionally what comes subsequent. In Kentucky, our number-one, most frequent, costliest pure catastrophe is flooding. However that’s adopted carefully by landslides. Whereas there was loads of nice reporting on the flooding, I wished to get into what’s happening with these landslides that usually accompany these main flooding occasions.

The Bakers, each in 2021 and in 2022, needed to undergo a collection of mazes to attempt to get funding to pay for the landslide injury at their home. Not like flooding or earthquakes, which have separate insurance coverage insurance policies, landslides will not be coated by customary owners insurance coverage or any particular landslide insurance coverage. Getting cash to pay again for his or her damages was a trauma on high of a trauma.

(Photographs: Screenshots from “Washed Away,” by Austyn Gaffney and Martha Park, pulled from the Grist model.)

Adams: What sorts of issues are individuals encountering?

Gaffney: When a landslide happens at somebody’s house, in the event that they personal that house, they’ll first go to their owners insurance coverage. So the Bakers, for instance, had State Farm, however underneath State Farm’s customary house owner insurance coverage coverage, they don’t cowl landslides. They name them an “Act of God,” to allow them to’t go to State Farm. Usually, you’d attempt the Federal Emergency Administration Company (FEMA) subsequent, and so they additionally don’t cowl landslides, except it’s a mudflow, which implies it falls underneath the identical insurance coverage coverage as flooding. It’s this cryptic distinction; individuals wouldn’t be capable of decide tremendous simply, proper, if it’s a mudflow or a landslide. So FEMA denied them. They’ll get cash from the Small Enterprise Administration (SBA), which is a mortgage that they need to pay again.

Linda, the mother, labored for a legislation workplace as a authorized secretary, so she began taking a look at maps of the hillside above her house and realized that there was an deserted mine about 150 yards up the hillside. So she utilized to the Deserted Mine Lands workplace in Kentucky to ask for help. However in addition they denied her. Their final resort was to contact their state consultant, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers. Hal Rogers additionally denied help.

The Bakers purchased a home for $136,000 about three years in the past, and so they now have paid or borrowed $94,000 on that house. They’re only one instance. However there are (different) households throughout the state and the area attempting to get help.

Adams: One of many particularly efficient elements of this story is that, if you discuss concerning the Bakers and their conundrum, we’re not simply studying their identify on the web page however really seeing their faces, as a result of it’s comics journalism that you just produced in collaboration with Martha Park. Are you able to discuss your work with Martha and the way y’all put this collectively?

Gaffney: That is the second story that I’ve been fortunate sufficient to work on with Martha. We first did a story near where she lives in Memphis, about water issues there. We wished to maintain following the difficulty of fresh water and water-related, flooding-related landslide issues throughout the area. I knew the Bakers from their earlier landslide occasion. We determined to try to pitch a narrative round: “Okay, we all know that landslides are occurring. However why isn’t there extra protection of people that undergo from landslides?”

Martha and I’ve an enormous doc with many story concepts. Then we strategy a writer to see in the event that they’re fascinated about working with us as effectively. It’s very collaborative. I do a majority of the reporting, however Martha, together with being an illustrator, is a really gifted author herself. She will even assist edit the piece and determine what works for this manner, which may be very completely different from typical reporting, since you’re attempting to make it as transient and contextual with illustrations as potential. The illustrations are telling a narrative that the textual content can’t actually present by itself.

Adams: Austyn, you’ve additionally performed various tales about coal ash, which is a widespread concern throughout Appalachia that continues to unfold. The story that sticks with me, and that basically triggered some coverage adjustments, was concerning the coal ash spill in Tennessee on the Kingston coal plant. Are you able to inform us what occurred?

Gaffney: First, coal ash is a waste left over from burning coal. Coal ash concentrates loads of the heavy metals and radioactive supplies that naturally happen in coal rock — issues like lead, mercury, arsenic, selenium. All of that waste is a high quality powder usually known as fly ash. It’s typically saved moist in a holding impoundment known as a pond, in order that the fly ash doesn’t simply take off into the air. On the Kingston Fossil Plant, is a coal burning technology station owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, there’s a big pond that had been exhibiting for years that it was comparatively unstable.

Three days earlier than Christmas in 2008, that pond burst in the course of the evening. It went throughout 300 acres of rural Rowan County, it went into the Clinch River. Round 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., a bunch of employees with the native Teamsters union had been known as to come back to the positioning to try to be first responders to determine what to do to scrub up this monumental, monumental catastrophe.

Austyn Gaffney. Courtesy

It’s nonetheless to-date the biggest industrial catastrophe within the U.S. For the subsequent 5 years, these employees cleaned up the positioning, however they had been in circumstances the place they didn’t put on any mud masks or any protecting gear. They had been ingesting all of this ash, and so they began to change into sick.

In 2013 the primary bulk of them filed a lawsuit in opposition to the contractor who was in command of the cleanup. To make a protracted story brief, that lawsuit is ongoing. In 2018, a jury determined that the contractor in command of the cleanup mainly broke their contract with TVA by not making certain site-wide security. This lawsuit has ballooned and it now has over 220 employee claims, and over 100 claims by spouses and households of these employees. Whereas it’s ongoing, individuals have additionally died — over 60 employees, in keeping with Knox Information’ depend.

Adams: It looks like a rising variety of communities realized that these coal ash ponds are proper there. In some instances, there’s concern about groundwater. Are you able to form of sum up the larger image?

Gaffney: A giant factor that occurred because the spill is that, in 2015, two years after these employees filed their lawsuit, the federal authorities got here out with its first coal ash rule. That’s a rule that, for the primary time ever, monitored coal ash waste and created rules for coal ash, which we had simply been dumping into basically massive unlined pits with much less regulation than a stable waste landfill the place you set your kitchen waste. As a result of we have now that rule, coal crops now need to report their groundwater monitoring information. So now we all know that of the 292 coal crops within the U.S., over 90 % are leaking contaminants into groundwater. Because the coal ash rule has come out, all of those coal websites need to create a cleanup plan. Greater than half of U.S. crops haven’t dedicated to a cleanup plan but.

Adams: And even that cleanup effort has appeared to form of spur spin off issues the place I do know some communities are frightened now as utilities relocate piles of coal ash, they’re being trucked by neighborhoods at occasions.

Gaffney: Yeah, the story that Martha and I did together in Memphis was about that concern precisely. There’s a plant known as the Allen plant, which can be owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. They had been sued to scrub up their coal ash website, and their resolution for cleanup was to truck the coal ash by a low-income, predominantly Black group in South Memphis to a landfill. There was loads of pushback from that group about the truth that it existed on high of an aquifer that supplied clear ingesting water to all of Memphis, and so there was loads of worry that there was going to be air pollution into that aquifer.


Since her story ran, Gaffney says the Kentucky Geological Society has been utilizing LIDAR know-how to present residents and builders a greater concept of landslide susceptibility of their area.

In 2022, simply after the July floods, it launched five initial free maps of Floyd, Johnson, Martin, Magoffin and Pike counties.

A January 2023 report discovered 1,000 new landslides within the areas most affected by the July floods.

#Journalists #Comics #Clarify #Landslide #Insurance coverage #Troubles #Kentucky, 1681732711

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