Tornadoes in Mayfield, Ky. Cause heavy losses: “Some never go home” | Kentucky


In Mayfield, Ky., Storm warnings had been coming for days, then radar sightings of a southward rotating debris storm, and finally urgent alerts of an impending severe tornado strike.

In the seconds it took for the “quad-state” storm to pass over the city’s higher elevations shortly after midnight on December 10, the notional separation between the man-made and the natural world was effectively erased – all like large sections of Mayfield

The damage to life and limbs caused by the vast and powerful tornado that swept through Mayfield was epic and profound. The wider storm front also wreaked havoc as more than 30 powerful tornadoes swept through “Dixie Alley”. There have been 76 deaths in Kentucky alone, including eight lost in a candle factory where night workers, some released from prison, later claimed they were dissuaded from leaving their posts or seeking shelter through threats of dismissal.

Debris is seen from inside the American Legion Theater on December 19, 2021 in Mayfield, Ky. Photograph: Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Last week, as collapsed homes were marked casualty and bulldozed over and ordered to be demolished, residents of Mayfield barely had time to assess the impact. The raging winds had left a metal covering wrapped around dismembered trees, demolished the town hall Christmas tree and ripped off the roof of the building itself and scattered debris for miles around in a way reminiscent of a plane crash.

“It’s not normal to have a tornado in December, but it’s not normal for it to be 73 degrees at night,” Mayfield resident Tim Wetherbee said, referring to the local temperature during the day. where the assault destroyed 15,000 buildings and caravans. caused at least $ 3.5 billion in damage.

In a world that is not doing enough to reduce the emissions that cause global warming and thus make extreme weather events more likely, the larger context of what happened in Mayfield did not escape Wetherbee. “People are thinking about today, not tomorrow, and it will only get worse,” he said.

Her niece, Huda Alubahi, was sheltering in a bathroom closet when the tornado struck. Clasped by his side was his three-year-old son, Jha’lil, who was beaten and killed when the house collapsed. Her other niece and children narrowly escaped injuries when their home across the road was hit.

On the other side of the post office, which lost its roof, her sister’s house was also destroyed. In total, Wetherbee, a refrigeration and heating contractor, had five family members whose homes were destroyed.

As utility workers began to restore power to Mayfield, for some there was little they could do but gawk at the scale of the destruction.

Lengths of two by four had become aerial spears, penetrating the metallic skins of cars; overturned school buses and semi-trailers; storage bins burst to reveal tons of grain now exposed to the elements; a collapsed water tower; and dozens of structures, from sculptural municipal buildings to private homes, which will now likely be demolished to prevent black mold from taking hold.

“Smaller tornadoes bounce off, but an EF-4 stays on the ground,” said owner Hoot Gibson, inspecting several of his crumbling properties. “The only difference between that and an atomic bomb is that a bomb would have roasted people.”

The trail of destruction from a tornado can be seen where it passed through McClure Chapel in Mayfield, Ky.
The trail of destruction from a tornado can be seen where it passed through McClure Chapel in Mayfield, Ky. Photograph: Cheney Orr / Reuters

Climate change was not something everyone was ready to lean on.

“Most people don’t want to know,” said James Hyatte, owner of The Catfish House. “They will follow what Fox News or their church tells them.”

Joava Good, deputy director of the Church of Scientology Disaster Response Team, attributed the event to an act of “evil.” Good, who has witnessed the aftermath of 45 tornadoes, said having one of this magnitude in December was open to interpretation. “It’s pretty amazing to see what’s going on. Something has changed.

Tracking a tornado is a relatively straightforward task of following a trail of broken trees and debris.

Half a mile outside of town is the Mayfield Candle Factory, which had 110 night workers when the storm hit. For many, it was a job of last resort: poorly paid but easily accessible to those without transportation. He offered cohesive work, with 10-12 hour shifts around the clock, starting at $ 8 an hour to meet demand from clients like Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“It’s pitiful,” said a project manager for the plant. “We lost eight lives, but we could have lost more. “

The factory, reduced to a pile of twisted metal and concrete, is a quarter of a mile from a feed factory that was relatively unscathed, a demolished chicken hatchery without its chicks, probably dragged down to 35,000 feet in the storm; a tractor dealer who, although badly damaged, has not lost any of his equipment.

Many townspeople, including workers at the factory that night, contradicted management’s claims that employees were free to leave after several tornado warnings were issued for the area. “Even with a weather like this, are you still going to fire me?” Evan Johnson, a 20-year-old worker, is said to have asked a manager. Their response, “Yes.”

Amos Jones, a lawyer representing Haley Conder, one of those trapped in the factory after it collapsed, said the candle factory, as well as the partial collapse of an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville which killed six, could be a turning point for labor rights.

“In the midst of the tragedy, we hope there will be more responsible care for employees and an end to all American sweatshops,” Jones said.

The dried wax is seen among the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky. On December 17, 2021.
The dried wax is seen among the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky. On December 17, 2021. Photograph: Cheney Orr / Reuters

Jones said he was forced to file a workers’ compensation complaint after a spokesperson for factory owner Mayfield Consumer Products continued to discredit and testify to claims that workers had been barred from leaving and subjected to calls and queues to determine who had left so they could be disciplined or fired. Company officials have denied the allegations.

The tornado also helped focus some minds on exactly who these workers were.

Jaime Massó, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana, who had turned his small church into a grassroots organization to provide food to the Mexican and Central American migrant worker population of Mayfield, said many workers at the factory turned out listed under assumed names – confusing who was missing. .

“That’s part of the problem – they looked for the wrong people,” Massó said. “There is a fear of the authorities, and they are not going to risk exposing themselves. They are there, but we have rescuers digging through the rubble.

Jane Hoopingarner, a worker with the Red Cross, said the job of rescuers was to start building trust with communities who often see themselves – and are seen – as outsiders. “We are here to accompany and support them – not to provide them with everything they need – because they are already taken care of by their own community. “

The storm itself, however, did not discriminate.

Ten miles southwest of Mayfield, Amish farms dot the landscape, and community horse-drawn strollers are common on country roads and in town.

The storm destroyed the home of Jacob and Emma Gingerich, killing both and two of their five children. Chris Crawford, a nearby farm owner – an ‘Englishman’ to the Amish – said he came to warn the couple of the approaching storm. “They had no way of knowing what was going to happen. We talked, they thanked me, then 30 minutes later it happened.

Crawford returned after his death to find the couple’s baby Ben, wearing only a diaper, under a vehicle more than 50 yards from the house and some distance from where his mother had died. “I heard the moan. He was lying in the aisle. I hugged him and just asked God not to let him die on me.

Lumber supplier Ronnie Murphy, who helped coordinate the rebuilding of the barn, said he believed the baby was pulled from his mother’s arms. “All the babies that have survived are miracles, but this one…” he paused.

By midweek, the family was buried in a single grave and 200 people from the community were traveling from as far away as Canada by train to help rebuild the sawmills that had been destroyed. “I guess that’s the way God wanted it,” said neighbor Joe Stutzman.

He declined to speculate on interpretations of climate science. “We don’t get involved in stuff like that, but the end is sure to draw near. Why did this thing come through here? I think it was to wake people up. ‘Hey! Better work together. Show your love. Pray.'”

Much of the Gingrich’s farm ended up a quarter of a mile in the woods next to Joey Rogers, who lost his home, four barns, poultry and cattle. Many of his surviving cattle were still too scared to be rounded up.

“They feel the storm coming and go crazy, but there isn’t a lot of place to go when you’re in a field,” said local vet Timothy Jones. But like natural disasters, he said, human life was first and foremost, but animals were part of the sweeping and widespread aftermath of a tornado strike.

A chicken inspects broken jars of canned goods where Jacob and Emma Gingerich's home once stood in Mayfield, Kentucky.
A chicken inspects broken jars of canned goods where Jacob and Emma Gingerich’s home once stood in Mayfield, Kentucky. Photograph: Cheney Orr / Reuters

Pets were also injured – a dog with a splinter in his chest, another who had to have a leg amputated. Others, however, had simply been drawn into history and lost for good. “How far do they go, who knows?” “

It may be too early to talk about a recovery at Mayfield. For some, it will be a transport that will continue long after the immediate dizzying intensity of the event itself and its consequences have abated.

Sandra Delk, Mayfield’s community response coordinator, said she slept in her car the first two nights, then moved into a trailer with electrical issues and eventually returned home, though still without lights or heater.

“People are dazed and some will never go home,” she said.

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