Tornado-hit towns in Kentucky experience slow recovery

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DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. – Just over a month ago, tornadoes swept through small towns in several states, especially Kentucky, and wiped out communities.

Now, these cities in need fear they will become the America too many people have forgotten.

“It’s not a rich city,” Lisa Barnes said.

Barnes works for the Housing Authority in Dawson Springs. It is surrounded by houses marked by stilts … or by empty plots where the stilts have been removed.

“Everyone’s pretty much low income here,” Barnes said, “and it’s going to be hard for them to rebuild and start all over again.”

One of the destroyed houses belonged to his father, Consey Pagano, who died in May 2021 of COVID-19. A month later, everything is still there: his father’s favorite chair, lawn mower and bed, all within sight, all out of reach.

“I haven’t set foot on this property,” Barnes said. “I did not have the time.”

When the tornadoes first struck, towns like this received media coverage, trucks full of volunteers and nationwide attention. A month later, so many outside are gone, while so many in Dawson Springs are stranded.

Laura and Bob Ford took a day off for Christmas, another when it snowed. For the rest, they pack what they can in the city they have lived in for decades.

“I used to ride my bike all around here,” said Bob Ford, “and literally from here it’s… gone. Emotionally, we start hitting a pretty wall. hard.”

They don’t know where they will live next. They haven’t found a new home, even as they are about to say goodbye to the old one.

For those affected by tornadoes, the consequences move in inches, whether in a city of 2,000 or 10,000. Mayfield, Ky. Saw the most damage – and, initially, the most attention. It has since faded. What remains are irrevocably changed lives and a makeshift memorial to lives that ended too soon.

Tim Brown lives in Mayfield. Every day he goes to the same place downtown and tries to make a dent in the devastation – for free.

“A lot of people were gone,” Brown said. “They came, they did what they had to do and they disappeared. We hope more people will come back and help us.

“People are going to start to go back to their day-to-day lives,” said Barnes, “but don’t forget us… because it’s going to be a long road.”

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