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‘It’s very frustrating:’ People in Mayfield still waiting for life to return to normal post-tornado

Last Friday, June 10 was the six-month anniversary of deadly tornadoes that hit parts of western Kentucky.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 5:04 PM EDT
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MAYFIELD, Ky. (WKYT) - Last Friday, June 10 was the six-month anniversary of deadly tornadoes that hit parts of western Kentucky.

WKYT’s Amber Philpott, who was on the ground days after the tornado hit, recently traveled back to Mayfield in Graves County to check on a community in the process of building back from the ground up.

What WKYT found is not only a community tasked with rebuilding, but also focused on the well-being of those who call the small western Kentucky town home, and that while there is frustration, there is also hope from those who aren’t giving up on some of the hardest hit.

When a tornado strikes, there is no rhyme or reason to its path. Last December, an EF-4 tornado steamrolled parts of Mayfield, and the small community was left unrecognizable.

The scars on this town and its people run deep. Some are very visible and others more hidden.

“So this was my daughter’s bedroom, and then my window was over here, so this wall was leaning,” said Ashley Hunt.

Picture are all Hunt has left of the home in the Mayfield Housing Authority, where she and her children and several others rode out the storm.

“You don’t think it’s really going to hit you, but it started tearing through the house behind us, so we are hearing the noise,” said Hunt.

“So I pray, like holding their hands, and I usually have to make them say Amen, but that day they said it so quick, so I changed from praying to praising and just thanking God for keeping us safe,” said Hunt.

That tornado took Hunt’s home, but it also took her children’s sense of security.

“Every time it rains and thunders, they are calling me and texting me at work and I’ll say, ‘it’s not a tornado day, it’s not tornado weather, it’s not favorable for tornado they are not calling for that, it’s okay,’” said Hunt.

“Sometimes it surprises me that we hadn’t missed a beat with the city,” Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan said.

O’Nan, who hunkered down in her own home that night, doesn’t frighten easily, but she says December 10 was scary.

“We are scared, some of us are really scared, and I know there are mental health outlets available to everybody. I just hope people are taking advantage of that,” said Mayor Kathy O’Nan.

As her town starts to rebuild, she has already seen a number of people thinking about storm safety in the future.

“We have never permitted storm structures before, so now we have a process for doing that, we treat it just like a garage and people will have to come in and get a permit for that, but we are seeing some of that,” said Mayor O’Nan.

Working out of a makeshift city hall in a strip mall, Mayor O’Nan is tasked with not only the day to day operations of the city, but also trying to piece it back together slowly.

“Here we are at the six-month mark and I see so much progress in the debris removal and some progress in rebuilding. So, six months from now I really am excited about what we will see,” said Mayor O’Nan.

The city has now hired an urban planner and an architect to begin the process of imagining what the future Mayfield will look like.

In some regards, there is a lot moving forward here in the city of Mayfield, but for others, they are still waiting, just hoping to get their life back to where it was.

“It’s very frustrating. It’s also frustrating not just for me, but for other people, you know whenever it first happened it gave me hope when I see all these people here,” said Candi Burgess.

Burgess is one of those who feels stuck.

“I bought this home rent-to-own, so it means a lot to me. It’s my first home that I’m buying. I was excited,” said Burgess.

If you pass by her house, just a few blocks from downtown you might think her home looks fine, but it’s not.

“At first I thought, ‘okay it’s the roof, it’s the window, and it’s the siding, no biggie,’” said Burgess.

A month ago, she learned the tornado actually shifted the house off the foundation and the floor is buckling, but getting help has been hard.

She needs an estimate, but Burgess said no one really wants to touch the home.

“I have to have estimates of how much everything is going to be before I can apply for anything, and I have about four applications in my house right now that’s ready to be sent in, but I have no estimates,” said Burgess.

“We have an on-boarding or screening process for all the survivors,” said Ryan Drane, the executive director of the Mayfield-Graves County Long Term Recovery Group.

Drane works directly with people like Burgess.

“We work on the micro level with individuals and help them develop their individual recovery plan,” said Drane.

With more than 500 homes either damaged or destroyed, the challenge has been great.

Drane said there have been 4,000 FEMA applications submitted and his community agency tries to help people navigate the process.

“We have advocates that actually assist with FEMA applications, work with Red Cross, help them advocate for their insurance. We have multiple attorneys who are doing stuff for free for our survivors,” said Drane.

Drane is also well aware of how difficult the last several months have been for so many.

“The spirit is really strong, you know the fatigue is also there though as a community,” said Drane.

The tornado ripped so much away from this small western Kentucky town. Its hold even six months later on people like Burgess and others is still real, despite the storm being long gone.

“It’s hard and you just wonder, will we ever be back the way we were?” said Burgess.

Burgess told WKYT that since our interview, crews have told her the house is not fixable because it is too compromised. She is now in the process of trying to figure out what to do now.

WKYT also asked Mayor O’Nan about a permanent memorial to the lives lost in the community and she said that is a top priority for Mayfield once they have a proper location to erect something permanent.

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