80 killed, 160+ miles of terror and destruction | It's been one month since the deadly western Kentucky tornadoes
It's been one month since devastating tornadoes ravaged western Kentucky communities, killing 77. The storm spared nothing in its path.
From Arkansas to Kentucky
When, where did it start?
Tornadoes Long Deadly Track
160+ miles of terror, destruction
Stories of Loss
Loved Ones In Pain
'I Can't Explain It'
The Candle Factory
The Entire Building Is Gone
'There's No Basement'
Candle Factory Lawsuit filed
How to Help
Western Kentucky Fund
'It's Going to Take Years'
Communities move forward
Debris Blown All Over Kentucky
Memories Found Miles From Home
Monday, January 10 and Tuesday, January 11 mark one month since the deadly tornadoes struck western Kentucky. The latest reports reveal there have been 77 storm-related deaths and more than 160 miles of destruction.
From Arkansas to Kentucky: When, where did it start?
The Kentucky tornadoes were the result of a supercell that formed in Arkansas and it just kept going through Tennessee into Kentucky and Indiana. The storm spared nothing in its path; Western Kentucky received the most of the storm's wrath.
The NWS out of Paducah said the tornado moved into Kentucky about 5.5 miles southwest of Cayce, Ky (Fulton County) at 8:56 PM (CST), and travel northeast.
According to the NWS out of Louisville, the tornado ended at 11:45 PM (CST) four miles West of McDaniels, KY (Breckinridge County).
Tornadoes Long Deadly Track: 160+ miles of terror, destruction
The tornadoes ranged from EF-1 to EF-4 leaving a path of destruction in its wake. The hardest-hit areas included Mayfield, Dawson Springs and Bowling Green.
According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that hit Mayfield traveled more than 163 miles, breaking the record for longest tornado track in Kentucky history.
"The level of devastation is unlike anything I've ever seen," Governor Andy Beshear said in a press conference a day after the severe weather.
Stories of Loss: Loved Ones In Pain
As daylight broke the morning after the tornadoes hit, residents were shocked to find their entire lives had been upended. Governor Beshear said of the 77 who died, they ranged in age from 2-months-old to 98-years-old. Seven members of one family were killed.
"I didn't want to see her suffer any longer."
The father of 2-month-old Oaklynn said he did everything right to protect the family, including strapping her into a car seat. The tornado's force was too much. The twister threw the family across the street.
RELATED: 'I didn't want her to suffer any longer': Kentucky infant injured during tornado taken off life support
Baby Oaklynn was pulled off life support the next morning after swelling to her brain worsened. Her father said, "he didn't want to see her suffer any longer."
"If I could trade places with him I would."
Among the many who died during the tornado outbreak was a 3-year old.
Huda Alubahi said she was holding a tight grip around her son Jha’lil Dunbar and one-year-old boy Julius Dunbar when the tornado ripped through their home in Mayfield on December 10.
They took cover in the bathroom when the entire house collapsed on top of them. Jha'lil didn't survive his injuries. Alubahi suffered internal bleeding and a skull fracture after a sink fell on her head. Her one-year-old child was pulled out by neighbors with not a single scratch on him.
RELATED: ‘If I could trade places with him I would’ | Mother wraps arms around two young sons during Mayfield tornado. One didn’t survive
"If I could trade places with him I would,” she said days after returning to the rubble that used to be home.
Seven members of a Bowling Green family were killed. It would take nearly a week to recover the body of 13-year-old Nyssa Brown. Her parents and siblings were found the day after the tornado.
A couple married 50 years dies together in a tornado, their granddaughter said. The bodies of Billy and Judy Miller were found holding onto each other in the rubble of their home in Muhlenberg County, she said.
On a single Kentucky street, seven children were killed, Fourteen people died in a few blocks in Bowling Green. Eleven of them were from a single street. Entire families were lost. Between them were seven children. Two of those were infants.
The Warren County Coroner confirmed 15 people, including children lost their lives in the storm. Many of them were in the Jennings Creek neighborhood, which officials called one of the hardest-hit areas of the city.
'I Can't Explain It': Tornado Survivors
One family told their terrifying story to WHAS11 News as they stood in front of the rubble that once was their house.
Whitney said she was on FaceTime with her mother, Angie when the tornado struck. That's when her FaceTime went black.
"I was crying, trying to take care of my two children," Whitney said.
"We [ran] downstairs because we heard the siren and then I heard something that sounded like a train," Angie said.
"I can't explain it"
Deanna Badillo says she doesn't give up. "My friend and I both said we've cheated death. I think it's because of God's grace and I'm not done on this planet," said Badillo.
Despite her home being destroyed and narrowly escaping death, Deanna Badillo is thankful for the little things after her dog was found alive.
RELATED: 'I can't explain it': Mayfield woman crawls through hole to get out of destroyed home, later reunited with dog she thought died
"I didn't see anything... but what I felt I can't explain that to you. I can't explain what it feels like to stand here and tell you what I went through."
"We have to start fresh, but we're still here"
On Christmas eve, WHAS11 checked in with the Parker family who says it's been a tough, but they're trying to keep their spirits high.
"It's just devastating,” Kelly Parker said. Parker said it's hard to see the place she and her family called home for more than 20 years reduced to rubble.
RELATED: 'We have to start fresh, but we're still here.': Taylor County family says they're trying to keep spirits lifted
“All of our memories are here. It's just hard. We have to start fresh, but we're here. We're here for another day."
A blanket, a pillow and a Bible
Two babies survived a tornado in Kentucky that ripped the bathtub they were sheltering in out of the ground and tossed it with them inside, their grandmother said. Clara Lutz said she put 15-month-old Kaden and 3-month-old Dallas in the bathtub with a blanket, a pillow and a Bible. Then the house in Hopkins County started shaking.
“Next thing I knew, the tub had lifted and it was out of my hands,” Lutz said. "I couldn’t hold on. I just – oh my God.”
The bathtub was found in her yard, upside down, with the babies underneath. Authorities from the sheriff's office drove to the end of her driveway and reunited her with the two children, she said.
The moment was captured on the deputy's body camera.
The Candle Factory: The Entire Building Is Gone
In Mayfield, a candle factory with more than 100 people inside was completely leveled. Many of the workers survived, however, eight died.
Among them, Graves County corrections officer Robert Daniel. He was there supervising incarcerated individuals on work release.
A memorial to honor those who had died was built outside of the irreparable Graves County Courthouse.
A mother, sister, grandma, and friend. That's how Jill Monroe's family is remembering her. Monroe was one of those who didn't survive the storm-related destruction at the candle factory after tornadoes tore through Kentucky on Friday, December 10.
"It's hard to fathom that there were only eight people [who died] out of how many and she's one of them," Monroe's sister Heather Mcguffin said.
RELATED: First Christmas without Mimi: Kentucky family prepares for life without mom, grandma who died when tornado hit Mayfield candle factory
Her son Chris said he was told she was trying to protect people when the storm hit.
"She said that all of the sudden they were told that they needed to get back to the hallway or the bathroom and that the tornado was close," He said.
What they heard, what they saw
Along with the stories of loss and survival, there many different stories about whether or not employees were allowed to leave the night of the tornado. Some have filed a lawsuit.
As of December 14, four days after the tornadoes, every employee that was inside the Mayfield candle factory during Friday night's storms had been accounted for. Those who lived through the terror of that night are sharing their stories about what they saw and heard.
"All of the sudden this gust of wind came through, and then all of the people who were on the outside starting coming in, and they everybody started splitting because they wanted to be behind the wall... then boom - the entire building came down," Mayfield Consumer Products employee Kyanna Parsons-Perez said.
RELATED: Mayfield factory employees describe last-minute life-saving decisions, chaotic moments leading up to tornado
"I remember hearing people say, 'We're gonna die.' I remember thinking on my own, 'I'm gonna die,'” Sarah Atkins, another employee, remembered.
"My ears started popping, I knew there was a tornado coming and then all of the sudden there was a wall laying on top of me,” Darren, an MCP employee described.
'There's No Basement': Candle Factory Lawsuit filed
Survivors of the Mayfield candle factory collapse have filed the first lawsuit against their company. The 10-page class-action lawsuit alleges the candle factory, owned by Mayfield Consumer Products, was indifferent to the safety of its employees.
"[I'm] frustrated and kind of desperate right now," said Elijah Johnson. Johnson said he filed the lawsuit on behalf of his colleagues, to represent those who are no longer around to share their stories.
RELATED: Mayfield candle factory employees file lawsuit against company after tornado destroys building, leaves 8 dead
As one of the 110 workers inside the building when the storm hit, Johnson said he was injured after the roof of the factory fell on his back during the tornado.
There's no basement
Attorney John Caudill is trying to figure out how this could have been avoided. After speaking with employees who survived the storm, Caudill told WHAS11 he was left with questions.
“Why were there over 100 workers in this particular building during this tornado?” he asked. Caudill said they had more then enough warning, as the tornado touched down miles from Mayfield Friday night.
RELATED: 'There's no basement in this building.' | Attorney looking to take legal action against Mayfield factory
An attorney representing the company said all proper safety protocols were followed that night. These protocols included sirens and employees huddling within a specific area of the plant when the tornado hit.
Looking at the history of Mayfield Consumer Products, this was not the first time that the safety of the company has been a point of concern.
During a 2019 investigation, federal regulators found 12 violations and fined the company $16,350. Six of those violations were listed as “serious” and included defects in electrical protective equipment, issues with handling equipment and problems with exit routes.
Caudill said the building also lacked something that could have been crucial during the devastating storms.
“There’s no basement in this building,” he said.
'...No way this lawsuit can hold on'
Louisville attorney Ron Johnson argues the lawsuit won't stand a chance under Kentucky law.
“It seemed very rushed to me," the attorney said.
According to Ron Johnson, most employees in Kentucky can only sue their employers for injuries on the job through what's called a worker's compensation system. It’s an administrative process that doesn’t go through the court system.
“The only exception to that is if the employer intentionally harms an employee," said the attorney. He said it’ll be hard to prove that the Mayfield candle factory managers wanted employees to suffer.
RELATED: 'There is no way this lawsuit can hold on' | Attorney says Mayfield candle factory lawsuit has no chance in court
How to Help: Western Kentucky Fund
When news of the destruction in western Kentucky broke, people from across the state, and even the world, were reaching out to communities asking how they could help.
Beshear launched the Western Kentucky Relief Fund, which had already surpassed $18 million within a few days. As of Dec. 28, the fund has raised more than $30 million.
The governor's wife started a toy drive to help families just in time for Christmas. First Lady Brittainy Beshear said the drive collected more than 70,000 toys and would be able to provide gifts for every child's 2022 birthday.
FEMA arrived and set up mobile help within days after the tornadoes.
President Joe Biden came to Kentucky and pledged federal support and surveyed storm damage in hardest-hit areas.
Beshear announced that Kentucky was eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, meaning those who lost their jobs as a result of the storms could get unemployment even if they wouldn't typically qualify.
'It's Going to Take Years': Communities move forward
Since the tragedy, officials are looking ahead to long-term recovery.
"Rebuilding these homes and structures and lives is going to take years," Beshear said in a Dec. 28 update. "And we have got to make sure when support is needed down the road that we have it, it's there, and we can deploy it quickly to help these families."
The governor has launched a website with all the resources available for those in the impacted areas.
Kentucky lawmakers are also looking to quickly pass legislation for a $200 million tornado recovery package. It would allocate money for temporary housing and education.
And as families look to rebuild, the Attorney General's office is looking to stop scammers and potential thieves.
Registered contractors will receive placards to be displayed on-site, and in the contractor's vehicle, so residents can easily spot would be scammers.
Beshear has committed to working with the communities impacted by the storms for the entire recovery process.
"We will be here every single day for however long it takes to rebuild every building and every life," he said while delivering shoes to displaced Kentuckians in state parks.
Debris Blown All Over Kentucky: Memories Found Miles From Home
In the aftermath of the storms, some irreplaceable items were carried with the wind, pictures falling on lawns, in driveways, over 150 miles away.
Danny Smith found a wedding photo raking leaves in his Shawnee neighborhood yard. "That's their married picture, that's the picture they said I do on," he said.
Someone even created a Facebook page to connect survivors or family members with the found items.
"I was just taking the trash out yesterday morning and looked down in my driveway and there was this cute photo, 5x7 photo of a little boy smiling away," Beth Schulz, who posted the picture on the Facebook group Quad State Tornado Found Items.
As of Feb. 21, the death toll has risen to 80 victims Beshear said in a press conference. On Feb. 7, Gov. Beshear said 77 people died in the tornadoes. He did not provide details on the third reported death since that date.
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