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Muhlenberg County activates long term disaster recovery group for tornado assistance

The small community of Bremen, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky had 90 homes destroyed and 100 homes damaged in the December 2021 tornado.
Leader News
David Grant
The small community of Bremen, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky had 90 homes destroyed and 100 homes damaged in the December 2021 tornado.

During the initial shock, loss and confusion of a disaster, like the devastating tornadoes that ripped across Kentucky in December, federal, state and local agencies provide immediate help.Muhlenberg County has a volunteer group that steps in when emergency organizations move on to the next disaster.

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Dr. Freddie Mayes, a retired optometrist who's chair of the Muhlenberg County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee. He's been part of that group since it was created after a string of disasters. 

Mayes: The committee actually was formed in 2008, actually resulting from a tornado that occurred at that point. And folks in our community, I think, were wise enough that they knew there would be needs that were be unmet after people had dealt with insurance, after they dealt with FEMA, with Red Cross, with other agencies, there would be people either that were uninsured or underinsured, you know, or simply fell between the cracks. And so, the idea was that this group would be a dormant group, an inactive group, unless there was a state of emergency declared by either the president or the governor or the judge executive. As it turns out in 2008, that served us well, not just for the tornado, but we actually had three disaster events in a 12-month period. Not long after the tornado, we had the ice storm. And not long after the ice storm, we actually had the backlash of a hurricane. So, between 2009 and until this tornado actually struck in 2021 it was a dormant group. But as soon as it happened, you know, disaster was declared. And so, within a day or two after the declaration, this committee actually started to convene again. We are a 501c3 with no administrative costs. Not anybody that works in this group receives any compensation at all for what we do.

Miller: Dr. Mayes, first I want to ask you about the tornado in 2008. Then I'll ask you sort of to compare to what happened during the recent tornado in December 2021.

Mayes: Well, they were uniquely different. I mean, what we went through in 2008, there were lots of homes that were affected, but they were only damaged, you know, they were not destroyed. And there was no loss of life. The repairs, at that point, were things that the volunteers could handle. And then, of course, the one that hit in 2021 is a whole different ballgame. We're talking more than 90 homes destroyed, another 100 that were damaged in some way. We had 11 lives lost during this one. And the destruction went beyond homes. People lost cars. They lost campers. They lost boats. You know so it's just been incredibly devastating to the community, and the bulk of which was in Bremen. Bremen is a small community and probably 95 percent of the damage done in the county was in that one place. Once the dust is settled, so to speak, and everything that's been done for people that can be done, then that's where our group steps in.

Miller: Dr. Mayes, what do you think will be the kind of help you'll give people, you know, after two, three, six months, maybe even a year?

Mayes: Well, repairs are going to be something that we know we're going to be involved with. So, if people you know, had homes where they lost everything, and they were uninsured, by the time you have homes, plus appliances, plus autos, and that sort of thing, those are the things you're going to try to tackle. To make sure that people get back in homes, people have transportation, people are living as normal life as they can. It's what our goal will be.

Miller: Have you heard of other committees like this? I haven't really. It sounds rather unique.

Mayes: I've been told that a number of times. I honestly don't know what other communities have done. But we've been approached by a number of other people asking us what we do and how we did it, and kind of using us as a model. So, I do think that what we're doing is relatively unique.

Rhonda Miller began as reporter and host for All Things Considered on WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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