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Dispatch From Disaster: Picking Up the Pieces in Kentucky

Posted on Friday, December 17, 2021
by AMAC Newsline

AMAC Exclusive – By Chris Skates


Maybe it wasn’t wise, but as the tornado bore down on my home and my Kentucky community, I went to bed. I didn’t want to know. I’ve reached bad news saturation in my own life. The next morning I arose at 4:30 AM, went outside to see that our neighborhood had been spared, then isolated myself from the news. Around 8:30 that morning, I went to a local diner I have frequented for 25 years. That’s when the magnitude of the horror hit me. My waitress, who has poured me coffee for all those years, couldn’t keep her composure. As she made her usual dozens of trips through the swinging doors to the kitchen and back, she stopped several times, bent at the waist, and sobbed. She rebuffed all attempts to be comforted. She is a worker. The kind who make this nation run. Hard work would be her solace, what little solace there was.

The dishwasher came by with a rack full of clean glasses and suddenly sat beside me on the next rotating stool. He mumbled a question to no one in particular. His voice was so quiet, like a lost child’s, that I couldn’t understand him. He shook his head and stared blankly for a moment, before taking the glasses to be put away. I found out moments later he had four cousins trapped in the candle factory where dozens tragically lost their lives in the storms. Thankfully, his cousins have since been rescued.

The staff at the diner were just a few of the victims of this monstrous tornado. It seems an indecency to write of the horror stories and loss of life narratives that I’ve been told by people I’ve been friends with for decades. Lives are forever changed. As if the loss of life wasn’t enough, a community has ceased to exist. Their town is no more.

Initially, I found myself waning between survivor’s guilt and paralysis. I am a writer, yet words seem wholly inadequate for such a time as this. And where is my moral authority? My family suffered no property damage, no personal loss. Yet if we are this hard on ourselves, we rob our neighbors of the most powerful balm available for healing – love for one another.

So we will do what Western Kentuckians do in these situations. We will do what we did during the Ohio River flood of ’37 when 18 inches of rain fell in 16 hours and one million people were left homeless; or the flood of 2011 when I waded with teams into homes and rescued the elderly; or what we did in the massive ice storm of 2009 that demolished the electrical grids of entire counties and did enormous damage as ice-covered limbs crashed into roofs like missiles, even as the rest of the world barely noticed. We will show up and help those in need. In fact, we have been showing up almost since the tornado passed.

We are not people without resources or know-how. Our forebears braved the Cumberland Gap when this state was the Western Frontier and built towns and cities in the wilderness. Daniel Boone’s mark still resides here. So we’ve been working 20 hour days since daybreak last Saturday. Teams of my fellow deacons have run chainsaws and hauled off downed trees. One man from central Kentucky showed up towing a massive smoker with a pickup truck loaded with meat on ice and just started cooking amongst the Mayfield wreckage. Nobody asked him to. He said, “It just needed to be done.” He’s been cooking and feeding people good, hot, free, barbecue ever since. A bottled water company from Eastern Kentucky showed up with a tractor-trailer full of bottled water, as did Samaritan’s Purse with their incredible response capabilities. Linemen and crews from across the Southeast descended in droves and are working like a well-oiled machine, sinking new telephone poles and stringing new wire.

We are mostly rural folks. We have chainsaws and tractors and backhoes and front-end loaders and dozers, and we are not remotely afraid to use them. More than that, we have compassion. Toys and clothes have been purchased and delivered to try to rescue some semblance of Christmas, meals have been cooked in home kitchens all over Western Kentucky and delivered with love and hugs, something that will undoubtedly continue through the holidays and into the next year.

So we will help our neighbors and not ask the government for much, and we will climb, one brutally difficult step at a time, from what was once a gorgeous bluegrass landscape and is now, temporarily, a hellscape. Mostly, we will cry with our neighbors and love them and then get up and go back to work. We are Western Kentuckians. It is what we do.

Chris Skates is a Western Kentuckian, a freelance writer and former Speechwriter and Energy Advisor.

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2 years ago

From Louisiana. Y’all sound like us Cajuns. This is what we do. I lost everything in Hurricane Laura. My brothers home is just now starting to be repaired. My sisters home was just finished.
Y’all will pull through this. The Good Lord is there for you. Words are never enough for these kinds of horrendous destruction.
My prayers are with all of y’all.
God Bless ????????????????

2 years ago

Praying for all of your neighbors. Your writing gives more insight into this tragedy than any new report. I wept as I read. May the Lord wrap his arms around these survivors and comfort them. And you.

2 years ago

I give to “Samaritens’ Purse”… They get in first…and “know”… where to help….

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