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First Dawson Springs families get state-provided travel trailers after December's tornado outbreak

Lily Burris

Governor Andy Beshear presented the keys to three travel trailers to families in Pennyrile Forest State Park on Friday morning as the first part of getting 200 trailers to families displaced by the December tornadoes.

The travel trailers will provide what Beshear described as “medium-term” housing for displaced families for the next six months, with potential recertification each month. Beshear said the state can ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the program for another six months, giving families about a year of housing while their towns recover from the tornadoes.

In the nearly two months since the tornadoes, volunteers and community members have been helping clean the devastation caused by the storms. Recovery from these storms is predicted to take years, Beshear said, not just months.

“Along the way, we're gonna work every single day to improve the lives of the families that have been through this, and today is one of those days, you'll get back to people being in their homes,” Beshear said.

The Commonwealth Sheltering Program, which provided the trailers, also provided trailers in Mayfield on Friday. All of the trailers are either a 2021 or 2022 model and range from 27 to 36 feet long.

Among the three Dawson Springs families who received trailers were a high school senior, an elementary school student and a grandmother raising her grandchildren.

Hilda Miller received a trailer in Pennyrile Forest State Park today. The Millers will be raising their grandchildren in the trailer until they figure out what’s next..

Jennifer VanMatre and her family received trailer keys today. Her son, Issac, is an elementary school student. Their home suffered serious damage in the tornado and these trailers give the family enough time to repair or rebuild their home and give them a place not to worry for the next six months.

“We feel like this was a blessing to be able to have stability since Issac’s in school,” VanMatre said.

The family plans to start moving in on their very first night and make the best of their situation. VanMatre said one of the things they’re planning to do to make the trailer more like home is make up a bin for her son’s toys.

“I’m excited that we’re able to come to a beautiful place, a safe place,” VanMatre said.

April Jennings is the mother of one of the families who received a trailer. Her daughter, Ashley, is a high school senior at Dawson Springs High School who will likely be in the new travel trailer when she graduates. She also has a son, Corbin.

“I'm so proud, for her to have gone through so much these past few years with quarantine during her junior year, and the tornado during her senior year,” Jennings said of her daughter. “I'm blessed but she wants to graduate, she wants to do better.”

Friday night is the Jennings’ first night in their trailer and they’ll be moving in some of their belongings and their pet cat to help make the place home. There’s something specific Jennings is looking forward to tonight.

“I want to cook them a meal and sit here and watch TV together and just be together,” Jennings said.

Hopkins County Judge Executive Jack Whitfield described the day as a good one after a “really, really rough month and a half” for the people of Dawson Springs. During the presentation with Beshear, Whitfield mentioned that the community felt at times the recovery process was moving slow.

Whitfield said that housing was the big thing the community needed, but there was something else he wanted to give his community.

“A hug. People just need support right now, and hope,” Whitfield said. “And I think this long-term recovery group that we’ve put together should give people hope because it’s going to bring a lot of resources together to get people back where they were.”

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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