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100 Days later: Mayfield residents still figuring out life after tornado

Lily Burris
Lifelong Mayfield resident Adam Turnbow points to the spot on the back wall of his home where the separation from the roof can be seen.

In front of the damaged Graves County courthouse, the daffodils are in bloom. About a half a mile down the road, Adam Turnbow is about to lose his childhood home.

Turnbow is a customer service representative for Five Star in Paducah. He’s lived in the same home on Sixth Street in Mayfield his whole life. The December tornado outbreak hit the home hard, but it was still standing. An organization told him it would be easier to tear it down than to repair it. Now, 100 days after the disaster, he’s preparing for his home to be demolished.

“This is probably one of the last times that I'll be here because we have a company, well not a company, a Christian group coming in Saturday,” Turnbow said. “We're going to try getting everything out of the house to have it bulldozed in the next few weeks.”

The roof structure has been damaged, there are broken beams throughout the house and most of the windows are broken. The carpeting was removed due to water damage, there are cracks in the foundation and now one of the walls is slowly leaning away from the rest of the house.

Turnbow, his mother, his grandmother and their dogs rode out the storm in the center of the house. Now, they’re riding out this next phase of recovery in a hotel room. They had hoped that one of the local charities would be able to help them repair the home the family has lived in for years.

“They finally classified that it was too far gone out of their reach to repair it,” Turnbow said. “We don't really have any other organizations that would be interested in repairing it we believe. It feels kind of hopeless. Like what's going to happen? Why is nothing happening? What do I do to make things happen?”

Turnbow is trying to figure out what they’re going to do next and where they might be in a year. There’s a trailer coming they’re supposed to live in but there have been some delays on getting that to their property.

“But we only know, hey, we might only have this three months, six months. Where are we going to go after that?” Turnbow said. “Because the house is not livable at this point and at that point, it's probably going to be gone.”

Turnbow is only 23 and trying to figure all of this out for his family has been difficult.

“My home has been my home for 23 years, about to be 24 on May 22nd, and it hurts to say that [on] my birthday I won't be able to be in my home,” Turnbow said. “I've been through anger, sadness, enragements, confusion, happiness.”

He said his family hasn’t received a lot of help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at this point and they don’t really know a lot of other options. They’re looking for a way to get their home rebuilt.

“We're hoping that Homes for Hope will build us a new home because they have to vote on the committee, see who gets the homes,” Turnbow said. “I'm hoping that they really decide that we deserve a new home.”

Turnbow and his family are just one of the hundreds of people that were affected by this disaster. As of March 18, FEMA has given out $14.6 million in assistance, just one part of the $65.1 million in total federal assistance for this disaster so far. The Small Business Administration has given out $49.7 million in loans and there’s been more $800,000 given out in disaster unemployment assistance.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has removed more than 396,000 cubic yards of debris from the right-of-way in Mayfield and Graves County.

The Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, an effort promoted by Governor Andy Beshear, has received more than $51 million dollars in donations and has given out $9,589,673 in funds.

Lily Burris
The Graves County Courthouse still looks severely damaged 100 days after the tornado in Mayfield that was a part of the December tornado outbreak in western and central Kentucky.

Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan said she and other people have been hearing they’re right on target for recovery, and maybe even a little ahead.

“There are obstacles in this but we are working to overcome them as we face them in the future,” O’Nan said.

She said they’ve been speaking with government officials from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri, about the recovery process. Both cities had major tornadoes in 2011, just over 10 years before the tornado that struck Mayfield.

So far, three of the largest churches in downtown Mayfield that were struck by the tornado have been torn down as well as some of the locations of local businesses. Some of these lots are now completely gravel and dirt.

“The fact that they are now totally level and are ready to have some rebuilding done upon them, it's looking into our future,” O’Nan said. “We know they will be coming back. We want it back, not like it was, but now that we have a chance to rebuild it better, we want that to go quickly. And it just can't.”

The city has been working with FEMA and USACE to clean up the city and get people into a better situation, but there’s been lots of red tape and steps to work through. O’Nan said lots of charities have also been helping the community.

In the next 100 days, O’Nan said she hopes to see the city involved in a couple of different programs and different organizations continuing to help. There’s an upcoming community meeting where residents will be sharing their ideas for what they hope to see in Mayfield’s future.

O’Nan said 100 days is a long time and there’s still a long way to go on the recovery process, but if someone gets down during this process, there’s someone else in the Mayfield community to pull them up.

“We're just 100 days into it, we are still very resilient,” O’Nan said. “We are determined to see this to the end and be better than we 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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