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Six months later, Mayfield still working through slow rebuilding process after deadly tornado

Update on Mayfield recovery, six months after deadly tornado
Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 7:33 PM EDT
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MAYFIELD, Ky. (WKYT) - Six months ago Friday, deadly tornadoes ripped through western Kentucky, leaving behind a path of damage and loss.

The largest tornado, an EF-4, spanning a mile wide and on the ground for three hours in Kentucky, destroyed parts of Mayfield and Graves County. It leveled the city’s downtown area and left hundreds of homes and businesses either damaged or destroyed.

This week WKYT’s Amber Philpott traveled back to western Kentucky to see firsthand what the months after that terrible December night have brought for the tight-knit community and what we found is that while there is hope, there is also frustration.

You do not have to look far to see the scars left on this western Kentucky town. Six months later the power and fury of an EF-4 tornado is still visible in what it leveled in its path and what it spared, but left mangled and twisted.

In the months since that December night, the community has cleared thousands of tons of debris, and downtown Mayfield is flat. Mayor Kathy O’Nan, now working out of an office in a strip mall, is well aware that to some it may not look like a lot is being done.

“I’m sure it’s frustrating to a lot of people in town who say they aren’t doing anything, we are running on a hamster wheel and we are so much closer than we were to getting that to disappear and then to start on that rebuilding process,” Mayor O’Nan said.

In the downtown area it’s quiet, the wind cuts through the open space and what is left standing is an eerie reminder of the power of mother nature. A simple cross or steps that now lead to nowhere is all that’s left of churches now meeting in spaces wherever they can find.

In recent months and with money from the state, the city has hired an urban planner and architect to start the slow process of beginning to think of what a post-tornado-ravaged Mayfield could become, but the mayor admits it’s a slow process.

“Like everybody else, I sometimes say, ‘why can’t this be done quicker?’ But there is so much red tape,” Mayor O’Nan said.

But then there are signs that things are moving forward, homes are starting to be rebuilt and for Mayor O’Nan, that’s where the hope lives.

“When I come to work and I look at the skyline and there are men working on roofs and that silhouette is just so hopeful,” Mayor O’Nan said.

While most construction is happening with homes, we found one business that has been able to rise from the rubble. The Barn is the first, and really only, business to rebuild in its old location in downtown Mayfield.

“It’s been in my family for 75 years,” said Suzanne Flint.

Flint is the next generation to run her family-owned business. She’s been at the helm for 27 years. The Barn is a place woven into the fabric of a small town like Mayfield.

“It was half this size at least and all it was, was 12 stools but it took care of two families for years and years,” said Flint.

Serving up breakfast and lunch, it operates as the local meeting spot, a place for conversation and eating.

“We have our regulars, Kent comes in twice a day, we know what they are going to eat,” said Flint.

The Barn is a place that is like a heartbeat in Mayfield and like most buildings around it, the tornado took no mercy.

A new mural inside The Barn is a reminder of the past, present and a future brought on by devastation.

For Flint, the weeks and months since have not been easy.

“For us personally like I said, it’s been chaotic, hectic, stressful very stressful. We did not have insurance so getting this rebuilt was a real chore,” said Flint.

She mortgaged her home and the building’s lot to get it open and is one of many frustrated by how slow the process can take. She was ready to open her doors in April, but setbacks have her still waiting.

Flint is hopeful that when her doors do open, it can be a catalyst that gets more to do the same up and down the streets around her.

“I can’t imagine it not being here, I think Mayfield needs us as much as we need Mayfield,” said Flint.

The CVS in downtown Mayfield was one of the only buildings not destroyed, but six months later, it has a message on its digital board that simply reads, “prayers going out to all those impacted by the tornado.” It’s a message that still rings true in the devastated community.

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