Residents feel ‘heartbreak’ and ‘hope’ after Kentucky tornadoes

Climate

MAYFIELD, Ky. (NewsNation Now) — Living through the worst tornado outbreak in Kentucky history changes a person. But almost two months later, residents say, sometimes it’s the heartbreak, loss and fear that makes room for the light.

“I did not make it to the interior hallway. I was still in the living room, probably about 6 feet from where the house just started dissolving,” said Terry Sharp. He and his wife lost their entire home when a tornado came through Mayfield on Dec. 10. 

The 61 tornadoes of that night spanned eight states from Arkansas to Kentucky. Leaving a path of 260 miles of damage, it was the deadliest of the decade, killing more people than the tornadoes of 2016-2018 combined. 

While they got out with their lives, all that was left of the Sharps’ house was a wheelchair, a walker and rubble.

“I didn’t have time to think about if I was scared or not,” Sharp said. “I was looking for my wife. She’s the one that was important. … When I heard her voice, it woke me up.”

Sharp and his wife are both in wheelchairs. They’re currently living at a state park as they continue to search for a place to live. They have a view of the water, but it’s not home. 

“The mental part of it — of not having a house anymore and not having your daily routine — has been the hardest,” Sharp said. “It will put you in a state of depression. I don’t care who you are out there, how strong you are.”

Mayfield police are receiving so many calls that other agencies have been brought in to help. But in a town of 10,000, every call is personal. 

“The toughest part is remembering that we lost lives,” Police Chief Nathan Kent said. “So as many of us have started to focus on rebuilding the city, you know, every morning when you wake up, you realize that there are families that have lost loved ones and that we’re missing people out of our community.”

Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

One sense of normalcy amid grief is the mail carriers continuing their work. Neither snow nor rain — nor destruction — stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, as the motto goes.

“It’s very important for us to get the mail out to all our customers,” mailman Joshua Jenkins said. “Mostly the neighbors and friends and just people that we’ve dealt with (in) the community for years.”

But some see the destruction as an opportunity— a chance to create better infrastructure, affordable housing and a long-term plan for the city. 

“I’ve grown tired of looking at it being rubble, and I think that’s a good thing,” Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan said. “I will miss it. But I’m ready to see what comes in the future, and I feel that way about our whole town.”

The Rev. Joey Reed prayed through the twisters in the century-old First United Methodist Church, which is scheduled to be demolished in the coming weeks. Reed said the time ahead is a chance for new beginnings, to break down walls between neighbors. 

“This resets a lot of the perspectives that we have,” Reed said. “Some of the things that we argue about and fight about — they’ve been reprioritized. Now they’re not nearly as important as they were before Dec. 10.”

One tornado survivor, Jasmine Parrott, is still having a hard time getting back to normal.

She was relaxing at home when the storms started, and took shelter in her bathtub.

“I got down, covered my head,” Parrott previously told NewsNation.

The power went out then, which is when Parrott said she knew something was going to happen. She heard a loud noise, like a train, and suddenly, her bathtub flipped over and she kept rolling over. After being swept up into the storm, Parrott woke up in the woods, badly injured and bleeding, with so much debris in her eye she could barely see.

When NewsNation caught up with her recently, Parrott said she still can’t walk or work — and she doesn’t even want to be in Mayfield anymore. To help Parrott, visit her GoFundMe.

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