MAYFIELD, Ky. – Although her birthday is still a few days away, Harley Kelso, 60, knows what he’s getting from her sister.
The retired truck driver, whose home and car were battered by last week’s tornado – one of dozens that ravaged the South and Midwest, killing at least 90 people – said his sister brought chainsaws and his two sons home in badly affected conditions. Mayfield to cut down a tree that rests on his family’s minivan.
“I lost my car and the corner of my porch,” Kelso said, sporting a t-shirt that read World’s Greatest Papa. “I’m just glad everyone in the neighborhood survived.”
Such gratitude may seem odd in the wake of a long tornado that demolished huge parts of Mayfield, but it’s a common refrain these days in this tight-knit community of 10,000 people.
Even with his van crumpled under a giant tree, most of his front yard hanging from its roots, smashed windows, and a house with no electricity or running water, Kelso says he’s well aware things could have been worse – and resolved if not downright optimistic about the task ahead.
“I’m going to bring my daughter a hot breakfast,” he said with a smile, clutching a bag of breakfast tacos left by one of the dozens of volunteers sweeping the neighborhood. , offering a hot meal or a cold drink.
President Joe Biden, who visited the community on Wednesday and described the damage as some of the worst he has ever seen, pledged the full support of the federal government to help the city rebuild.
“I intend to do whatever it takes as long as it takes to support your state, your local leaders, as you recover and rebuild, and you recover and rebuild,” the president said. , standing in front of a decimated city center.
Clearing the mountains of debris into which storms have transformed homes and businesses, said Michael Dossett, Kentucky’s director of emergency management.
“This will be one of the most important parts of the recovery,” Dossett said Thursday at a press conference at the State Capitol in Frankfurt. “Debris removal is one of the most important elements as it is an integral part of rebuilding not only the city’s infrastructure, but for all of our owners. “
In the city districts, the courtyards and streets are filled with debris: felled tree branches, shingles, mutilated children’s toys, clothes covered in mud. Trees that were not completely uprooted have had the upper branches torn off. Others hit cars or houses.
Many houses have had roofs ripped or torn from their foundations. Others have been reduced to nothing more than a huge pile of bricks, insulation and shattered wood.
In the center of town, heavy equipment operators scrambled back and forth to clean up piles of rubble that covered entire blocks. In what was once a steam-cleaning company, volunteers sifted through piles of debris to collect what they could. Several steam cleaners stood at the edge of the pile.
The damage and devastation in Mayfield is so severe that it could be years before the community returns to normalcy, said Chris Chiles, disaster response coordinator for Danville-based God’s Pit Crew, in Virginia, which has been helping storm-ravaged communities for more than two decades.
“There is a ton of work that needs to be done,” Chiles said. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years across the country, and it’s hard to do worse than that.
“It’s going to take a long time. Years, unfortunately.
When a city that has experienced such a catastrophic event is finally rebuilt and back on its feet, Chiles said, it is often stronger and more cohesive than before.
“The loss of life is horrible, but sometimes the neighbors don’t know each other and things like this bring people together,” he said.
Yet not everyone is ready to rebuild.
Chris Eigenrauch, 49, whose home was among those hit hard by the storm, said the prospect of rebuilding an entire community was just too intimidating. He said he was considering moving to neighboring Illinois, where several of his relatives live.
“It will take months, if not years,” he said. “I’m just planning to go. For those who remain, I hope God helps them rebuild.
Kelso, who works 20 hours a week as a short-term cook, doesn’t know how long it will take to bring his own home back to normal, let alone the devastated community. But his confidence is unwavering.
“It’s a tough community,” he said. “We will meet. “
Associated Press reporter Piper Hudspeth Blackburn contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.
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