‘Just numb’ Kentucky twister l

A woman helps cleaning Ginny Watts’s destroyed home in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, on 14 December, 2021, four days after tornadoes hit the area. – It is normally a joyous season, but in tornado-blasted Kentucky thousands of families are in crisis days before Christmas, including 13-year-old Andrew Humphrey’s, recently made homeless by the worst storm in state history.
Tossing down debris from where their second-floor apartment used to be in the devastated small town of Dawson Springs, Andrew and his two older teen brothers play the part of grown-ups Tuesday joining scores of others in the tedious and heart-wrenching task of post-disaster cleanup. Photo:CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

‘Just numb’ Kentucky twister leaves survivors in shock

Susan Orten struggles for words as she picks through the destroyed home of her partner of 25 years, swept to his death as their picturesque town was reduced to rubble by Kentucky’s worst tornado on record.

‘Just numb’ Kentucky twister l

A woman helps cleaning Ginny Watts’s destroyed home in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, on 14 December, 2021, four days after tornadoes hit the area. – It is normally a joyous season, but in tornado-blasted Kentucky thousands of families are in crisis days before Christmas, including 13-year-old Andrew Humphrey’s, recently made homeless by the worst storm in state history.
Tossing down debris from where their second-floor apartment used to be in the devastated small town of Dawson Springs, Andrew and his two older teen brothers play the part of grown-ups Tuesday joining scores of others in the tedious and heart-wrenching task of post-disaster cleanup. Photo:CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

“I’m just numb. I’m just lost. There’s no words to say,” the 61-year-old told AFP on Tuesday, weeping as she spoke. 

Orten’s partner Ernie Aiken was sitting in his recliner, watching television, in his trailer home near downtown Dawson Springs when she called Friday night to check on him.

“‘If I’m here I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’ And that’s his last words,” she said. 

Minutes later the 86-year-old man, a beloved fixture in the tight-knit community, was gone, along with his trailer, crushed to splinters in the ferocious storm.

Home after home in several square blocks of this small western Kentucky town were obliterated as the twister cut a swathe through six US states – the neighborhood virtually destroyed.

Along Pine Street, the scene was post-apocalyptic, with virtually no house standing. American flags flew defiantly on poles jabbed into the rubble where dozens of families’ lives were turned upside down.

The weekend tornadoes killed at least 13 people in the town of 2,500 — more than half a percent of the population — with more than 100 still unaccounted for, according to Dawson Springs officials. The mayor said 75 percent of the town has been destroyed.

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PEOPLE SCREAMING

Jackie Gordon, 55, said she survived with her husband in their basement, diving under a work table when the tornado rolled over them like a freight train.

“When it ended, which seemed like an eternity… all we could do is hear people screaming ‘Help me,'” she said.

Gordon’s husband raced outside “and started digging people out,” she said.

They quickly converted what was left of their house into a makeshift triage unit, bandaging a wounded woman’s head and helping a boy who crawled up the driveway with a broken ankle.

On Tuesday morning, amid the sound of nearby chainsaws and debris removal efforts, Gordon gathered up bits and pieces from her shattered life. 

She lost her composure as she opened a recovered Crayola tin box that contained precious childhood photographs of her daughter, who now lives in Louisville.

Then Gordon looked down at the broken Christmas tree in her yard to find a cherished snowman ornament with her name on it, hanging from one of the branches.

“I’ve lost a lot, but I’ve (found) things that’s irreplaceable. I’m very fortunate,” she told AFP.

Part of her home stood eerily intact. While the front wall was blown off, a cabinet six feet (two meters) away was untouched, with Christmas stockings hanging from door handles.

In Gordon’s bedroom upstairs, a ceiling light was exposed to blue sky where the roof used to be.

Asked whether she would rebuild, she didn’t offer an answer. “I don’t even know.”

TIGHTEST COMMUNITY

Along Pine Street, where men wearing gloves and boots salvaged what they could, 60-year-old Susan Lacy was calling out for her sister’s eight beloved cats who went missing in the tornado.

“Bella! Henry! Felix! Rex! Aria!” she yelled.

In a measure of the randomness of a tornado’s path of destruction, Ashley McKnight’s nearby home was largely intact, although parts of her roof caved in and the house suffered water damage.

McKnight, 41, wore a headlamp as she pulled salvageable valuables and other items, including a plastic doll house, from her home.

Andrew Humphrey, 13, (R), son of Dawn Humphrey, clears his destroyed home with help of his brothers in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, on 14 December, 2021, four days after tornadoes hit the area. – It is normally a joyous season, but in tornado-blasted Kentucky thousands of families are in crisis days before Christmas, including 13-year-old Andrew Humphrey’s, recently made homeless by the worst storm in state history. Tossing down debris from where their second-floor apartment used to be in the devastated small town of Dawson Springs, Andrew and his two older teen brothers play the part of grown-ups Tuesday joining scores of others in the tedious and heart-wrenching task of post-disaster cleanup. Photo:CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

She said her town’s resilient residents were already pulling together to make their way beyond tragedy.

“We are the tightest community you ever saw,” she stressed.

Facing the tornado’s aftermath has been hard to bear for McKnight, who said she lost her teenage son Logan in a traffic accident the day before Thanksgiving.

While all around her home there was “total devastation,” McKnight said, “I really feel my angel up there had something to do with my house still standing.”

by Michael Mathes

© Agence France-Press