A black mailbox with white numbers “303” was all that was left. While planning a volunteer workday with my husband last Friday, we visited a rural part of Morgan County struck by the March 2 tornadoes. I’d heard the words “completely destroyed,” but I had no idea what they truly meant.
The search for an insurance client led us down a rural road that is home to Kentucky’s forestry service nursery. Long rows of tiny cultivated trees were unscathed, though littered with debris. The stunning sight was acre after acre of the natural forest in that area with the tops of trees twisted off. They looked like giant pencils that had been stuck in the ground, pointing pathetically skyward.
The mailbox had been next to the forestry-service office. All that remained was a heap of rubble. The only thing I could distinguish was a door that had been broken in half. My husband’s client was scooping the debris into a trash container.
More disturbing to me was the conversation with the man clearing the wreckage of his mother-in-law’s mobile home just a few dozen yards away. With nowhere else to go, she had ridden out the EF3 tornado in that structure. I couldn’t believe she had survived. Her belongings were strewn everywhere — books, clothing, furniture. It looked as if someone had put them into a blender and pressed “puree.” The man reported to us that an astonishing number of people had been in the same precarious predicament.
There were signs posted at the Wolfe County line proclaiming them “StormReady.” Actually, when I looked into it, Wolfe and Morgan counties are merely “supportive” of the StormReady Program through their cooperative extension services. In our own county, the excuse that we’re “virtually” ready all except for “the signs” doesn’t seem adequate in light of what happened only a few hundred miles away.
As he and his team cleaned debris from West Liberty yards, my husband learned how some residents had fared through the storm. One woman, incomprehensibly, had watched the tornado in its entirety from an enclosed porch. Another elderly woman had nowhere to go when the storm was over, spending the night alone in her home with no power and only part of her roof.
I’m so proud of our Jessamine County firefighters. I’ve been a fan for quite a while, and reading about their efforts on the night of the tornado just confirms my opinion that they are heroes. Their B.E.R.T. training was absolutely worth every penny spent on it.
People, this is a wake-up call. It is up to residents to devise a plan for taking shelter and put it into action when threatening weather approaches. In this instance, it was wonderful for local churches to open their doors on the spur of the moment to those who felt safer there. But it would be better if some structures were designated as storm shelters and were equipped in advance with provisions for people who might be stuck there for days if a storm actually strikes.
I know that we had a false sense of security. Prevailing wisdom told us that Kentucky doesn’t get killer tornadoes. I also heard about one citizen who was blasé about the tornado reportedly approaching from Garrard County. “Once it gets to the river, it will stop,” she said. “It can’t hop the river.”
I don’t think I’d bet my life on that. We will likely hear the warning sirens again before spring is over. It’s time to be sure we’re StormReady.