The AP's Adrian Sainz and Bruce Schreiner report on Eastern Kentucky's recovery from the devastating night of December tornadoes that claimed 81 lives, dozens in the town of Mayfield alone.
Audible evidence of rebuilding in Mayfield has been difficult to miss: the cracking and crashing of excavators breaking apart wood and glass, the beep-beep-beep of heavy machinery reversing, the popping of roofers’ nail guns.
In an AP interview, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said removing debris and finding temporary housing were early priorities after the tornado. More recently, attention has turned to keeping residents in Kentucky.
“These are towns that have almost been wiped off the map,” Beshear said. “We will continue to be concerned about getting people back on their feet and concerned about not losing the population of these towns.”
Some have moved to more permanent shelter, including travel trailers, the governor said. In Graves County, tiny homes were approved for displaced residents, and several larger homes are being built in Mayfield, emergency management Director Tracy Warner said.
“We really hold the future of Mayfield and Graves County in our hands,” Warner said. “And that is scary, yet exciting.”
Although there’s cause for optimism, progress remains slow in places. In Dawson Springs, where Bullock and her family now live in a camper, the 54-year-old registered nurse said she has seen just a few houses being rebuilt, and some friends say they won’t stay.
Bullock and her husband had paid off their home but didn’t have insurance. A disaster-response charity is helping them build a new house on their property, and Bullock hopes to see a day when their family gatherings resume.
“Sundays were fun days. ... I just want to have that again,” she said.
Beshear, a Democrat, said millions in housing assistance payments from a state relief fund are being distributed. About $64 million in federal assistance has been approved for storm victims in Kentucky, with some aid targeting temporary housing, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Recovery will take “a couple of years, but it shouldn’t take any longer,” Beshear said. “There are days that it’s a little more frustrating, ... but we are going to get this done.”
The recovery effort in Eastern Kentucky has been arguably the one thing Kentucky Republicans haven't heavily politicized as a weapon against Beshear, mainly because the damage was so widespread in areas that are heavily rural and Republican. But as Beshear said, the recovery will still take years to complete.
The bigger problem is that more nights like this are coming as climate change revs up storm fronts into tornado-spawning nightmare fuel across the country, with more damage, more devastation, and more deaths. It will only get worse in the months and years ahead.