Governor marks six-month anniversary of Kentucky tornadoes
From the front porch of a newly built home, a western Kentucky town devastated by a tornado six months ago celebrated another milestone in its recovery on Friday — part of a massive relief effort that Gov. Andy Beshear hailed as representing “the best of America.”
Three families were handed keys to their new homes in Mayfield — the first houses to be fully constructed since the town took a direct hit from the storm system that spawned deadly tornadoes last Dec. 10 and 11. Eighty-one people died in Kentucky. Thousands found shelter with relatives and friends, or in emergency facilities, hotels and state parks.
Kentucky still has “a long way to go” to rebuild from the destruction, the governor said. But the scene of families moving into new homes was the latest sign of the recovery that the governor said he promised in the aftermath of the storms.
“I pledged on that day that while we had been knocked down, we were not knocked out,” Beshear said. “That we would get back up again and we would move forward. And six months to the day, we’re not just up, we’re not just standing on our feet, we are moving forward.”
Beshear praised the outpouring of support for the storm-battered region. A tornado relief campaign established by his administration has generated donations topping $52 million — with $16 million being used to help build hundreds of homes for families left homeless by the storms, he said.
The Democratic governor said the country “stopped arguing about stuff” and came together “to do God’s work, to help lift people up, tell them they mattered and that we loved them.”
“It represents the best of America,” Beshear said.
Assistance efforts from the federal and state governments along with the Red Cross have exceeded $193 million, the governor said. Nearly 2,600 people in Kentucky who were displaced by the storm have been housed through emergency programs, he said.
To show the enormity of the recovery, Beshear noted more than 2.5 million cubic yards (1.9 million cubic meters) of debris have been removed from storm-stricken Kentucky counties. Putting that into context, a tandem dump truck carries about 10 cubic yards of debris in each load, so the 2.5 million removed is roughly equal to 250,000 truckloads, he said.
Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan said Friday she could think of “no better way” to commemorate the six-month mark since the tornadoes hit than to hand over keys to the three new homes.
Working with the state, nonprofit groups Habitat for Humanity, Homes and Hope for Kentucky and The Fuller Center for Housing submitted proposals to build up to 100 homes each in storm-stricken areas, the governor’s office said in a news release.
The first three homes in Mayfield were made possible through the work of the group Homes and Hope for Kentucky. It partnered with Mennonite Disaster Services and Amish groups in the region to build and repair homes without labor costs, Beshear’s office said.
“This is a wonderful day, a day of celebration, six months to the day after a terrible tornado changed the face of our town,” said Heather Nesler, co-chair of Homes and Hope for Kentucky.
Every time he returned to Mayfield, the governor said, he’d swing by the new homes to see the construction progress.
Also Friday, the governor awarded $15 million in assistance to Mayfield Electric & Water Systems for its recovery efforts. The governor says he wants the assistance to storm-battered utilities to prevent ratepayers from shouldering the costs of the recovery.
That money comes from appropriations approved by state lawmakers. Beshear praised the Republican-dominated legislature for stepping up to provide funding to aid the region’s recovery. There’s still more than $80 million of the state funds left to be distributed, he said.
“We’re going to build back bigger,” the governor said. “We’re going to build back better. And we’re going to make sure there’s a really bright future here.”