What the recovery looks like 6 months after tornadoes devastated parts of Kentucky

It’s been six months since a devastating and deadly storm tore through western and southern Kentucky, producing 20 tornadoeskilling 81 people, injuring hundreds more and convulsing an entire region.

The event was heartbreaking and took most people by surprise. Tornadoes are not unheard of in Kentucky, but few expected one of the longest tornado systems in the nation’s history materialize on the night of December 10 – not exactly tornado season.

The massive storm delivered a historic boost to communities and families of all shapes, sizes, economic backgrounds and cultures — from the town of 150 residents of Cayce in Kentucky’s western edge, to the fastest-growing town fastest in the state, Bowling Green.

Significant progress has been made in clearing debris and rebuilding communities, but many people are still looking for permanent housing, fighting with insurance companies or struggling to get help from the government. .

Others have evolved completely, heightening concerns for regions that have already suffered decades of population decline.

Discover stories from across the storm’s path via this interactive map:

At a press conference on the eve of the six months, Governor Andy Beshear said the region still had a long way to go.

“We’re here six months after these storms with more work to do, but we’re holding on,” Beshear said. “More knocked down, never knocked down. Standing with reconstruction to do, but with most of the debris gone and knowing that not only has help arrived, but more help is on the way.

Federal data shows that the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved less than 16% of Kentuckians who applied for housing program relief in the wake of the tornadoes. Claims that were approved under this program alone amounted to nearly $16 million in federal assistance for storm victims, but thousands of people still filed claims that weren’t satisfied. .

In February, the approval rate was 14%. Federal officials said more people would receive benefits through an appeals process.

After six months, Beshear estimated that Kentucky, the federal government and the Red Cross had distributed $193.3 million in disaster relief to individuals and municipalities.

More than 2,600 people were temporarily housed through emergency programs in the days and months following the disaster. Beshear announced in May that the Team Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund would help provide up to 300 homes for people who lost everything in the storms.

More than $52 million has been contributed to the relief fund by donors across the country. Beshear said about $26 million was spent on things like funeral expenses, support for uninsured homeowners and home construction. The state legislature also gave $56 million to help victims and rebuild communities.

Beshear said the state emerged from the tragedy stronger.

“Our properties are no longer covered in rubble. We don’t care about tomorrow or the next meal. Our children in these areas have completed their school year,” Beshear said.

The longest tornado track in the system left a 160-mile path of broken trees, concrete slabs, twisted metal and scattered goods slowly cleared, grown, replaced or forgotten. In total, National Weather Service investigations found the 20 tornadoes traveled nearly 290 miles combined in the Bluegrass State — longer than the Grand Canyon. According to Beshear, about 2.5 million cubic meters of debris have been cleared from the storm’s path since then.

There is great hope for how communities will rebuild after the tragedy. State and federal dollars are flowing to small towns that needed a boost even before the storm hit.

Yet a scar spans the 19 counties in Kentucky affected by the system, and people still grapple with very real trauma.

Kentucky Public Radio documented the state of recovery in nine of those communities, six months in:

  • cayce — The small community in Fulton County was one of the first places in Kentucky to be hit by the deadly December storms. Six months later, people are rebuilding and starting to return home after having to stay in nearby places like Fulton and Union City. Most of the houses in the community were damaged or destroyed by the storm and were replaced by temporary structures – trailers, mini-houses or containers converted into residences.
  • mayfield — Government data indicates that 13.5% of the city’s approximately 10,000 residents are Hispanic or Latino. For many in the Spanish-speaking community, experiences with government entities outside the United States have brought confusion and hesitation in the wake of a disaster.
  • The Between the Lakes National Recreation Area – Two paths covering nearly 7,000 acres of LBL were severed by the December tornado outbreak, leaving parts of the Kentucky and Tennessee recreation area heavily damaged after the storm.
  • Princeton – Scientists at the University of Kentucky Research Center in Caldwell County are still looking to advance their research six months after a long-lasting tornado hit their workplace in December. More than 60 staff on site have been forced to halt most of their research into livestock, soybeans and other crops since the storm.
  • Dawson Springs – A town of less than 3,000, once famous for its healing waters, is now seeking healing after a devastating and deadly tornado killed 14 people in the Hopkins County community.
  • Pembroke – A Christian County community of less than 1,000 residents is struggling to recover after an EF-4 tornado ripped through the small town late Dec. 10, 2021.
  • Bream – It only took minutes to erase decades of history for some Kentucky farming families in Muhlenberg County, and with it, their way of life. The deadliest tornadoes in state history destroyed barns and equipment, killed livestock and poultry, and collapsed fences and grain systems. Farmers rush to get crops in the ground amid reconstruction.
  • Bowling green — The Warren County town is home to a diverse international population that has fled wars and persecution and crossed oceans and continents for a part of the American dream. Their new life of opportunity and security was turned upside down last December when the worst tornado in Kentucky’s history ripped through what they had worked so hard to build. Some immigrant and refugee families, six months from the disaster, are resettling again.
  • saloma — The deadly tornado outbreak hit rural communities like the town of Taylor County the hardest. The tornado impacted acres of farmland and decimated homes along the way.

Copyright 2022 WKM. To see more, visit WKMS.

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