Tales of survival: Mayfield residents waited, panicked, prayed

MAYFIELD, Ky., Dec. 12 (Reuters) – Until the power was cut Friday night, Rick Foley was closely monitoring the storm system with the help of radar and television news. But when his home in Mayfield, Kentucky, went dark, all he could do was sit back and wait. Finally he heard the roar.

“My ears popped and debris started pouring out the door and I dropped to my knees, covered my head and was gone in 30 seconds,” the 70-year-old retired shipwright said of the moment one of the The most powerful tornadoes in Kentucky history crashed into his home.

In what seemed like less than a minute, the front of the house completely disappeared, leaving the fireplace in his living room exposed and surrounded by a field of debris.

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Dazed and with nowhere else to go, Foley stumbled to his bedroom. There he was surprised to see a framed oil painting of his late wife, Mary Ellen, lying on the ground almost intact, illustrating the randomness of the destruction. She died 38 years ago giving birth, Foley said, tears in her eyes.

He spent the rest of the night awake in his room, with the wall broken, completely exposing the room to the street. But the roof was hanging down, protecting it from the rain.

“I kept hearing noises in the rubble, hoping it was my cats,” he said, but the cats have not returned home.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said dozens of people in his state were killed in tornadoes that hit the Midwest and southern United States Friday night, killing people in at least five states.

As with Foley, the television news notified many Mayfield residents of the approaching deadly weather system. But many of those who survived said they were still powerless to defend themselves from its force as it rampaged through their small community Friday night.

WPSD-TV, an NBC affiliate in Paducah, Kentucky, about 25 miles (40 km) to the north, moved ahead of regular programming starting at 7:30 p.m. with meteorologists on the air live for the next five hours broadcasting Strictly specific alerts as the storm approached. The warnings were also spread on social media and on the cell phones of users of the station’s app.

“I can’t tell you how many people and emails I got that said, ‘You saved lives tonight,'” station manager Bill Evans told Reuters by phone.

The Paducah office of the National Weather Service also issued an ever-increasing series of alerts on social media. A Twitter post at 9:03 pm warned that tornadoes could hit Mayfield at 9:30. At 9:27 pm, it read: “TORNADO EMERGENCY FOR MAYFIELD. A VIOLENT TORNADO IS MOVING TO THE CITY OF MAYFIELD. TAKE SHELTER NOW!”


Despite the warnings, many residents had nowhere to hide from the killing force of the tornado.

Bridget Avery hugs her friend Derrick Starks after helping him recover family memories and a photo album of Starks’ uncle’s destroyed home following a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky, USA on December 12, 2021. REUTERS / Adrees Latif

Laurie Lopez, 53, received an alert on her phone at 9:06 pm saying to take cover from the incoming tornado. She, her 19-year-old daughter and their two huskies took refuge in the hallway between the kitchen and their bedroom.

“We got to the hallway and it wasn’t 20 minutes before our entire house started shaking. She was screaming, she went into a panic attack, ”Lopez said of her daughter.

“We heard the noise and the whole house started shaking,” he said.

On Sunday, the front of Lopez’s two-story home appeared completely collapsed and part of the roof had fallen into the front yard. Lopez’s car was buried somewhere under the mound of rubble in front of where the home once stood.

When Timothy McDill learned that the storm was near, he fled to the basement with his family. Once downstairs, he tied himself, his wife, his two grandchildren, a pair of Chihuahuas, and a cat to a drain with a flagpole rope. Then they waited.

“They were policemen. They weren’t crying much,” McDill said of her grandchildren, ages 12 and 14. “My wife and I were crying all over. We were afraid of losing the children, and they don’t.” Do not think about that “.

Marty Janes, 59, and his wife, Theresa, 69, were heading to bed Friday night when he went to the bathroom.

“I just got out of the bathroom to go back to the bedroom and the ceiling came in, the walls came in, there was glass flying everywhere.”

Janes hid under the dining room table and was “bleeding all over the place,” she said. He and his wife were yelling at each other from across the house, but they couldn’t reach each other.

Paramedics arrived and took Janes to the hospital. His wife was unharmed.

On Sunday, Janes was sitting next to her dilapidated home as volunteers removed her belongings to prepare the home for demolition. The ceiling and walls had disappeared.

Inside the door of what used to be the dining room were dried blood handprints from where Janes had tried to return to the bedroom to reach his wife that night.

“I don’t even want to stand out there and watch it,” he said. “I don’t wish this on anyone.”

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Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Mayfield, Kentucky; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Written by Frank McGurty; Editing by Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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