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Photos: Tornadoes Devastate Western Kentucky

All photos Laura Noel/CARE

All photos Laura Noel/CARE

An up-close look at the devastation wrought by tornadoes in Kentucky

Roofs torn off. Trees uprooted. Century-old structures reduced to rubble. Power and water lines cut. And families mourning loved ones lost in a wave of tornadoes that swept across six states on Friday, Dec. 10. This photo essay from western Kentucky provides just a glimpse of the devastation this disaster brought about, and the immensity of the task ahead.

In the wake of more than 30 storms that touched down across the central and southern U.S., 89 people are confirmed dead, with at least 75 of those in Kentucky. According to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, at least 105 people are unaccounted for across the state.

According to The New York Times, “The tornado that ravaged western Kentucky was a monster, an EF-3 storm with winds of 136 to 165 miles per hour. With a footprint of up to three-quarters of a mile wide, it shredded warehouses and houses along a path of more than 220 miles.”

In the wake of the storms, many homes were completely destroyed, residents left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. In many communities power will be out for weeks. Even for those families whose homes are still standing, return may be impossible due to hazardous waste and dangerous conditions. The ongoing power and water outages have made freezing temperatures an immediate and serious concern for residents.


Over 30 storms touched down across central and southern U.S. in early December

Those displaced have taken refuge in neighboring communities but are uncertain when they may be able to return home. Meanwhile they are in urgent need of clothing, food, water, medicine and other basic supplies. These communities also have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many families lacking financial resources to relocate or rebound from both the pandemic and this devastating storm.

Working with local community organizations, CARE is responding by supporting access to clean water, food, jobs, safe living conditions and emergency cash assistance.

One of CARE’s key partners in this effort is Louisville-based Change Today, Change Tomorrow, which supports BIPOC and underserved Kentuckians in achieving food justice while accessing public health and transformative education. Their existing programs serve historically neglected demographics, with a focus on women-led households. The hardship brought on by the storm is personal for Taylor Ryan, CTCT’s founder and executive director, whose hometown was one of the state’s hardest hit communities.

For the immediate relief phase, CARE will prioritize providing $250 in cash assistance to 100 vulnerable families to purchase items they need urgently to weather the crisis. A total of 50 cash recipients have already been identified, with a focus on the most vulnerable, including female-headed households and the elderly. CARE’s bold, longer-term aspiration is to support up to 5,000 displaced families from Mayfield and surrounding areas with up to $1,000 in cash per family to help them meet ongoing needs for food and shelter.

In addition to cash, major needs continue to include clothing, generators and food and water supplies. CARE’s initial goal includes providing urgently needed food and water supplies to 2,500 families, working with UPS to move goods to the affected areas. The distribution of cash started this week.

CARE and its partners are committed beyond the initial relief phase, and they need to be – survivors face the possibility of recovering without heat, power or water for days or even weeks to come. For this reason, CARE will provide support to Kentucky through the end of 2022.

A large piece of siding protrudes from an overturned car in Mayfield’s central district (left). Mayfield First United Church in Maysville, a 100-year-old structure on 8th Street, was gutted (right). Pastor Joey Reed and his wife hid in a basement closet as the storm scooped out the sanctuary and side walls of the church, leaving a few rear pews and the organ pipes intact. Reed told CBS News, “Thanks be to God the parts of the building that came down didn’t come down on us. I realized it might be the last few moments of my life on this earth. I was very glad to be with my wife. I know her prayer, and mine, was that we’d be spared. … All I care about is the fact that the most valuable possessions in my life, my wife’s life, my children, they’re all safe. Everything else is replaceable.”

Rick Foley was alone at his mother’s former home when the tornado hit. He found shelter in a closet next to the bed seen here. When he emerged, the entire outer wall of the house was gone, but the bed was untouched.

The sun came out on Tues., Dec. 15, revealing rows of roofless houses, mattresses, and other furniture on lawns along Mayfield’s central district (top). Much of Mayfield is being bulldozed because so many buildings cannot be saved.

Mayfield’s splintered trees are full of siding, belongings, and American flags. Several residents placed flags in their ruined yards as a symbol of hope and community.

L’Ariana Richardson placed flowers on a makeshift memorial at the Mayfield courthouse in honor of the town citizens who lost their lives in the historic storm. She and her family came to the town square on Wed., Dec. 15, to pay their respects to close family friends who were hurt in the storm (top). Yeshalee Rodriguez and her 5-year-old daughter, Alejandra, spent some time at a makeshift memorial that sprung up outside the town courthouse on Thurs., Dec. 17 (bottom).

A bookcase looks almost pristine, though the desk, file cabinets, and other pieces of office furniture blew away (left). A teddy bear appears to have caught hold of an antenna on a smashed up van in Mayfield’s central business district (right).

The First Christian Church of Mayfield was a historic structure that anchored 1st Street. A workman looks out over the damage as he and his colleagues began boarding up what remains of the church for future repair.

Gabriel Jones, 23, came to Mayfield from Memphis by himself to give treats and water to people affected by the storms. When Gabriel was in high school, he announced a football game in Mayfield and remembered how kind people were. He came to town as a reciprocal gesture of kindness.

“Our power was out in Memphis once for three days. It could have been us that got hit by this storm.”

He wears this fuzzy white hat to be cheerful and remembered.

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