Last Wednesday I wrote a tongue in cheek column about rain soaked "friends" and their billion dollar lottery dreams.

If I'd only known what the next morning had in store.

My Thursday started when my partner in life, Valerie, shook me awake with "you need to get up, the creek's flooding"  It was 5:30 in the morning. I crawled out of bed and looked through the curtains. In the pre-dawn, rainy gloom I could see Little Dry Fork well over its banks, flooding the road that leads in and out of the holler, and creeping up the driveway, just a few feet from our vehicles.

I rushed outside and moved the vehicles as high up the driveway as they could go, then watched in the slowly brightening dawn as the creek edged closer and closer to her house barely a couple hundred feet from HWY 15, the main road between Whitesburg and Hazard.

As the rising water inched closer to her house, we realized the only way to save the cars was to drive them across a soggy field toward higher ground where her daughter's house was. From that vantage, we watched as water from the rising creek met water from a flooding drainage ditch on 15 and soon surrounded her house. It touched the foundation and, thankfully, stopped.

We were the lucky ones. From Elkhorn City to Jenkins and Whitesburg to Hindman and Hazard clear to Jackson, a one in 1,000 year rainstorm has brought scenes of our worst nightmares.

I know not a single stream in Letcher County that stayed within its banks. Not a single community in Letcher dodged the mayhem. Not a single holler went untouched by flood, by landslides, by trees falling where the ground was too soaked to hold them. Not one.

But even as the streams were escaping their banks, as houses and bridges were being washed downstream, a very different force was rising in the mayhem.

There's no real name for this force. It rises up in individuals who see a challenge and square up to face it head on. It passes from person to person, from neighbor to neighbor, like a fever. It is a fierce determination to accept the impossible challenges we faced and to overcome them with a smile.

Some might call this force hillbilly strong or hillbilly pride. Some might call it hard-headedness. Some might call it heroism. I call it what it is:  people helping people.

It is exemplified by my partner who rushed into CANE, the commercial kitchen in Whitesburg, to don an apron and begin cooking for the first responders and refugees who would soon be showing up at the door; by the local martial arts instructor who rescued neighbors trapped by flood waters in his kayak; by the local first responders who left their own destroyed homes behind to care for others lost in the devastation.

In the wake of unimaginable tragedy, I have seen the true heart of Eastern Kentucky. From Pike to Letcher to Perry and Breathitt, east Kentuckians have risen to the challenge. There is a lot to do and many burdens left to face. But my money is with you, whether you identify as Appalachian, as east Kentuckian, or simply as American.

A billion dollars is nothing compared to the value of our people. Together we can overcome any disaster.