Kentucky families struggling after tornado hits same locations a second time

BARNSLEY, Ky. (AP) — Devin Johnson’s life was turned upside down for a second time when a tornado leveled his home during the Memorial Day Weekend — on the same lot of homeless people in Kentucky where another storm left him in 2021.

Johnson, 21, on Tuesday saw workers using chainsaws to cut debris from the trailer he lived in with his grandparents and girlfriend. It was an all too familiar scene for his family.

Their former home in the small western Kentucky community of Barnsley was destroyed in another a terrifying tornado outbreak As of December 2021, this has killed 81 people in the Bluegrass State.

“We never thought this would happen again,” Johnson said.

Amid all the uncertainty as they start over, they decided on one thing, he said.

“All we know for sure is we’re not coming back here,” Johnson said. “There will be so many memories of us losing everything.”

Barnsley was hit Sunday by a powerful tornado that packed winds of up to 165 mph (266 kph) and tore a destructive path through nearly 36 miles (58 kilometers) of Kentucky, National Weather said Service.

FILE – A damaged tornado car lies in a pile of debris, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa.  Experts say planning is essential before a tornado threatens.  Weather radios, basements and bicycle helmets are said to save lives.  This winter's record heat fueled a deadly tornado outbreak in parts of the Midwest and South in March.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)

The area was hit by several rounds of severe storms, and damage survey crews were assessing the rubble to determine how many tornadoes struck. Another powerful storm Sunday narrowly missed the town of Mayfield, where a laborious rebuild continues after a tornado that hit the town in 2021.

The governor of Kentucky. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency following Sunday’s storms and reported five deaths statewide. The governor toured storm-struck areas in western Kentucky on Monday.

“We are committed to helping rebuild every home and every life — that’s a promise,” Beshear said Tuesday on the social media platform.

In Barnsley, the tornado ravaged part of the storm-weary community and tossed Johnson’s mangled trailer into a yard next to where Mark Minton’s family lived. The Minton family’s roof was damaged and one end of their trailer was pushed off its foundation. The 2021 storm destroyed their house.

“I’m pretty good at stats and odds, and those numbers don’t add up,” Minton said Tuesday of his family’s home being hit twice.

He doesn’t know yet if it’s a total loss this time. His family stayed put after the 2021 storm, but he’s not sure what they’ll do after the latest tornado, which struck the day after his daughter’s wedding. He has a lawn care business and his youngest son will be a senior in high school next year – two factors that have him staying put.

“I’ve seen quite a few storms,” Minton said. “But seeing the same area – with almost pinpoint accuracy – being hit twice in two years makes it hard to stay in the zone.”

Her family moved to safety before every storm. While his family stays with relatives, he says he spends the night at home to guard against any potential looting.

Johnson’s family also fled before the tornado struck Sunday, taking shelter with a relative in nearby Madisonville. Watching the weather warnings as the storm headed towards Barnsley, they felt like they were sinking.

“We all felt like we had lost everything again,” he said.

Later, as he was returning home, emergency vehicles rushed past him. When he turned the corner in his neighborhood, “there was just nothing” as he approached his family’s land.

In 2021, Johnson’s family rode out the storm in their trailer. Without a basement, Johnson crouched in the kitchen, clinging desperately to a table with his grandparents, sister and boyfriend. His uncle and aunt covered themselves with a mattress in the hallway.

“You start to hear a roar, and then the whole house starts shaking,” he recalls. “The electricity started to flicker and the windows broke. And then all of a sudden you feel the wind and the pressure and this roar tearing through the house and it starts pulling you and trying to drag you outside.

They all escaped unharmed, but the caravan was destroyed. From the wreckage, they salvaged some possessions, including a beloved statue of Jesus and Mary that his grandmother had owned for decades, Johnson said. They collected some family souvenirs, including photos.

Johnson’s family furnished their new trailer in stages once they raised enough money, he said. But after the last tornado, the family’s home and belongings were scattered across the neighborhood.

“This time everything we had is gone,” he said.

Later that day, they found an engagement ring that belonged to his girlfriend’s grandmother.

“It’s very meaningful to her because it’s the last memory she has of her grandmother,” he said.

His family had insurance every time tragedy struck. But their situation is just as dire as the first time.

“Right now we don’t have any money,” Johnson said. “So we’re just trying to figure out how to proceed next.”

He stayed at a motel in Madisonville, with relatives helping him pay expenses.

The plan is to move to Madisonville. He and his girlfriend have been saving money since the 2021 storm in hopes of getting their own place, but for now they will likely live with his grandparents, he said . Johnson works in a warehouse in Madisonville and his girlfriend works in a factory.

“Since then, it’s been so tight, with all the bills we’ve had to pay,” he said.

Having seen the immense force of tornadoes, he longs for a house with a basement.

“We know the power they are capable of and how easily they can take your life,” he said.


Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky.

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