Devastation from Kentucky tornadoes ‘never seen before around here’


In this Kentucky community, resilience and faith run deep.

At the First Baptist Church in the heart of Mayfield, Sunday worship is at 11am every week. It was on this day too, for a congregation who survived, in a church that’s still standing.

But beyond the church, the centre of this town is devastated. Businesses, homes, lives all destroyed.

kentucky tornado
It’s hard to imagine being in the middle of it all as the tornado passed through

On every corner, they are picking up what’s left. The tornado cut a path right through the place, whipping up everything with such extraordinary power.

Old brick buildings have been ripped from their foundations. Factories made of iron and steel are now twisted wrecks.

On the corner of 6th and North Street, I met Elyce Ray. For her, the sight was just all too much.

“I’ve been through the town a couple of times and saw everything. It’s just so upsetting, you know, to know that the town that you grew up in and everything, you know, memories, is all gone.” she told me.

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We stand next to what’s left of her local law office. She points out the owner. David Hargrove is standing by a desk in what was once his office. Except that now there are no walls and no roof.

His attempt to organise the mess around him seems so futile, yet we find him with a brave smile on his face.

“You smile or you cry, you know. You don’t have much time for tears; I’ve had them. And so, you know, we are just trying to clean up as best we can and get going. We’re not the only ones obviously. This devastation has never been seen before around here.”

kentucky governor
Kentucky’s governor pledged help and money

Even the buildings which are still standing here have lost their roofs. The tower of the historic courthouse was toppled. It fell inwards, collapsing much of this municipal landmark.

Standing next to it were father and daughter, Jim and Sarah Palmer. Both looked tired and dazed.

“I’ve lived here my entire life and seeing everything destroyed – it kinda hurts,” Sarah said.

“I think we’ll come back and we’ll come back bigger and better than ever,” her father Jim added.

kentucky tornadoes
The tornado cut a path right through the town

Walking around this town is an overwhelming experience. The pictures and video doesn’t really seem to capture the enormity of the damage.

For block after block there is such extraordinary destruction. It will take them a very long time to recover from this.

It’s hard to imagine being in the middle of it all as the tornado passed through.

Kentucky’s governor Andy Beshear was here today for a second day to support the community and pledge help and money.

“Look around, we’ve lost countless lives,” he told me.

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Community search for survivors

“We are looking for each other and we are going to be there for everybody that needs our help,” he said. “We open our homes for each other. We are going to make sure that they are fed; we are going to rebuild. We’re going to make it, but we are grieving people today.”

The rebuild he’s pledged will take time, it will cost money, and all of this will stir the fractured politics here too.

It doesn’t take long in communities like this for politics to come up in conversation. It is a divided nation. Beshear, a democrat, won the governorship here in 2019 by just 0.37% of the vote.

But in last year’s presidential election, Republican Donald Trump won the state with 62%. Joe Biden managed just 36%.

Kentucky governor wants aftermath to be declared major federal disaster by government

On the edge of the town, beyond a roadblock is the cost of this tornado in lives.

For two days and two nights now they have been searching for survivors at the town’s candle factory where more than a hundred people were working the night shift on Friday. Hour by hour, good news here seems less probable.

Back at the church, they are carried by faith, but they will need more than that here.

President Biden has pledged help and support. There’s not much here yet though. This is very much a community struggle.

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