BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. — Sue Neace’s late husband built the wooden steps behind her Breathitt County home. Reaching out into the mountains beyond, the couple had envisioned their grandchildren using them. Instead, the stairs would eventually serve a different and unexpected purpose.

What You Need To Know

  • Sue Neance has finally returned home months after her house flooded

  • Neace applied for FEMA help, but the agency rejected her claim

  • Neance used steps originally built for her grandchildren as refuge during the flood

Sue Neace climbed these steps to escape the flooding that took over her Breathitt County home. (Spectrum News 1/Jonathon Gregg)

“Just for grandkids to camp out, climb the hills, never thinking we’d ever need them for a flood, but you never know,” Neace explained. 

She meant to tear them down about a year ago, but when the creek swelled higher than Neace had ever seen in her 50 years there in late July, the steps became a refuge. 

Neace waited there with her daughter, watching for helicopters, until help arrived. Her home sits on an elevated slope, near a bend of Highway 476. Despite the higher ground, her houses still ended up with three feet of water inside it. 

Like so many eastern Kentuckians affected by flooding, she is still working to recover, three months later.  Neace’s son-in-law, Bobby Holland, a pastor in Jackson, has been working day and night since July to put the home back together. 

“We got new floor put down, actually working on the windows right now, putting trim around them, redid the sheetrock on the walls, ceiling, all that, new electric, new doors,” Holland said. 

When Spectrum News 1 met Neace, she had just spent her first night back in her home in months. 

“Amazing, absolutely amazing. We’ve been wanting to get back every day. I’d tease him. Has he got it ready for me yet?” she said.

When the flooding happened, it was summer, but as the recovery continues, the leaves have changed and the weather has turned cold. While Neace may be back in her house, she only has space heaters to keep warm. 

She had applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help. However, Neace said the agency denied her request for assistance. She will keep trying. 

Meanwhile, many of her neighbors are starting over from scratch. The family is grateful for the people and organizations who have donated their time and money. 

“There is no way that we could have done it financially by ourselves,” said Holland. “She couldn’t have done it and so it’s through the help of and the kindness of people that have been able to put the home back,” he finished.