MAYFIELD, Ky. — In downtown Mayfield, after a deadly EF-4 tornado tore through much of the small town last December, the road to recovery looks like removed debris, and destroyed buildings that were brought down.
But it's a foundation that's ready for the future.
Al Chandler is a local pastor and father to seven kids; he's also the chair of the town's Long Term Recovery Group. The group is advised by national volunteer agencies like the American Red Cross, but ran by neighbors.
Chandler said a few months after the storm, there were dozens of people coming to Mayfield to help the community. He says while help was there, it was unorganized -- something common after a disaster.
'"We started realizing that there was some things starting to fall through the cracks." he said. "People, starting to fall through the cracks."
City officials soon began work to create a long term recovery group to organize the relief needed following the devastating storm.
Misty Thomas, with the American Red Cross, said it's "been really awe-inspiring" to see the community come together to create long-term recovery groups.
The Long Term Recovery Group works in organizing volunteers, donations, finances, construction, health services, but most importantly, case management.
It's made up of teachers, delivery drivers, PTA moms -- all working together to help their community. Most do not have experience with disaster recovery, but learn as they go.
"Some people have called it an airplane you're building while it's flying and that makes perfect sense," Chandler said.
Chandler explained that survivors are matched with a case manager who walks through with the survivors what they need to do next.
"What did FEMA give them? What did Red Cross give them? What else do they need? This church helped with this - this rotary helped with this - begin to coordinate that together," he said.
Part of that process is understanding FEMA's and other's roles. Chandler said those groups aren't designed to get families to the finish line.
"I think their role is definitely 'hey here's what happens in a disaster - here's something we can get you started on. You need to get these papers in order. You need to get these things in place. Here's a direction you need to go - we'll help you on your way' - and go. That's different than 'we're going to completely take care of your needs,'" he said.
Twenty case managers have worked through what was once 4,000 FEMA claims. Of the cases left, 290 cases don't have a case manager right now, 180 are closed completely and there are 200 open cases with a case manager.
"Our community is tasked with taking care of our people. And through the multiple level of resources available - its our job to come alongside our neighbors and to restore them and recover them back to where they need to be," Chandler said. "Back into a home. Hopefully even better than where they were before the tornado."
Now, a former factory houses the disaster recovery hub. Case management happens in the office, and the back holds all of the donations they receive.
Still, the community has a long way to go with 190 families still labeled "homeless." 70% of the homeowner that lost their house to the tornado, Chandler said, were renters.
"They deserve to be home and they deserve to have peace," Thomas said.
Chandler said there's no where for them to live right now because of how much the tornado took.
"So, they're the ones staying in hotels, lodges, campers, FEMA campers or Kentucky campers or with friends of family," he said.
But in this community, you can't put a number on disaster recovery; you celebrate the successes.
The numerous new homes that have been built in the first year since that horrific night, work done regardless of the hurdles.
So many repairs are still needed though, but the lots are cleared of the destruction and residents are leaning into the possibilities, ready for the future.
"It's our job to come alongside our neighbors and to restore them and recover them back to where they need to be," Chandler said. "Back into a home. Hopefully even better than where they were before the tornado."
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