“Absolute decimation”: US tornado survivors face long recovery | Weather News


Glynda Glover is staying at a shelter in the small town of Wingo, Kentucky.

Her apartment in nearby Mayfield, one of the communities hardest hit by a host of deadly tornadoes over the weekend, was uninhabitable after winds tore up the street, blew out windows and covered her bed with glass and asphalt.

“I will stay here until we get back to what is normal,” the 82-year-old told the Associated Press news agency. “I don’t know what normal is anymore.”

Glover is among thousands who have been displaced by tornadoes that hit Kentucky and five other US states, killing 88 people – including 74 in Kentucky alone.

The extent of the devastation caused by the storms became clearer on Tuesday as volunteers and emergency crews searched for survivors. Tim Morgan, a volunteer chaplain with the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department in Kentucky, said the aftermath of the tornadoes was “just absolute decimation.”

“Now there’s a whole hill of houses that are three feet tall,” Morgan said.

More than 100 people remain missing in Kentucky and more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed, said Gov. Andy Beshear, who warned earlier this week that the death toll is expected to rise.

“With this amount of damage and rubble, it could be a week or even longer before we have a final tally of the number of lives lost,” he said.

President Joe Biden plans to visit Kentucky on Wednesday after declaring a state of emergency in the state as well as in Illinois, where six people have been killed, and Tennessee, where four have been killed.

Two others died in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed and workers shielded elderly residents with their bodies, while two people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in Missouri.

“We have lost everything”

Kentucky provided temporary shelter in state parks for people rendered homeless by storms. More than 28,000 households and businesses were without power, while another 17,000 are under boil water advisories due to damage to supply facilities.

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky’s Division of Emergency Management, said clearing the debris is a “Herculean task” and the extent of the damage in some areas “will take your breath away.”

“The pictures and video don’t do it justice,” Dossett said. “It’s just indescribable in some places.”

In Dawson Springs, another Kentucky town devastated by tornadoes, hundreds of homes were reduced to rubble and trees toppled, littering the landscape for at least a mile.

“A full recovery is going to take years”, Jack Whitfield Jr, a local executive judge, estimating that two-thirds of the city was “irreparable”.

“Total devastation,” said Ashley McKnight, a 41-year-old schoolteacher, pointing to the remains of her neighbors’ homes in Dawson Springs.

A Facebook group called “Quad State Tornado Found Items” had attracted more than 57,000 followers with people posting images of found items including a family Bible, photos of loved ones, pets and even a heavy safe blown miles away by storms.

Back in Mayfield, home to 10,000 people, hundreds of homes were reduced to rubble, cars were destroyed and the entire town center was demolished.

Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from the city on Tuesday, said the relief effort has been “thorough” so far. “It’s unimaginable how they must go from house to house. There are thousands of homes and businesses that have been razed,” she said.

A water tower is seen destroyed following a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky on December 13 [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

“There is still no electricity here in Mayfield; there is no running water, so there are also concerns for these thousands of displaced families, where they will go – especially at night here when the temperature drops below zero.

Like Glover, Mayfield resident Victoria Byerly-Zuck was staying at a shelter in Wingo after her home and everything in it was destroyed. Byerly-Zuck’s three-year-old son spent a day trying to get into any car that came and went from the shelter.

“He wants to go home,” she told The Associated Press. Her son is autistic and non-verbal, and Byerly-Zuck said she doesn’t know how to make it clear to him that they no longer have a home.

“I will need therapy after this; we’re all going to need therapy,” Byerly-Zuck said.

“He’s all I have,” she added. “We lost everything.”


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