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Cayce Habitat for Humanity chapter working toward recovery in tornado's aftermath

Lily Burris
Habitat for Humanity volunteers work on the home of Barbara Atwill to repair it after the December tornado outbreak.

In the nearly four months since December’s tornado outbreak, the Fulton County community of Cayce has been hard at work making progress toward recovery.

There’s been a local long-term recovery group formed and local officials have been working on getting grant funds for the area.

One group that’s already been doing work in Cayce is the Habitat for Humanity of Fulton & Hickman County Kentucky. They’ve been building one house a year since they formed and for this year’s houses – they’re hoping to build three – will be in Cayce. Clinton resident Cherry Pyron is the board chair for the local Habitat affiliate.

The first house the group is working on this year is a repair job for Barbara Atwill, who the Habitat group originally built a house for in 2016.

Atwill’s house wasn’t completely destroyed by the tornado, but it was heavily damaged. One of the walls was pushed out, part of the roof was broken, the flooring and sheetrock needed to be replaced and the windows were broken, but Atwill’s happy she’ll get to keep calling it home.

“It's wonderful that I'm going to be able to move back onto my corner,” Atwill said. “I have lived there since 1982 and, even though I enjoy where I'm staying, it's just not really home.”

Atwill was in her home when the tornado hit. She didn’t think the storm was really going to come through her community.

“I’m in this mindset that I've got to get out of that, ‘Oh, that never happens here. It's gonna miss me’” Atwill said. “It didn't. The [2009] ice storm, it did not miss me. I should have learned from that and I didn't.”

Atwill said Cayce looks very different than it did before the storm.

“It's just devastated the area,” Atwill said. “You can see places now that you could never see before because trees were grown up and there are no trees anymore.”

Before the storm, the main intersection in Cayce was home to some gas stations, the Cayce Fire Department and the old Cayce schoolhouse. Now, most of it is either leveled or rubble. This is a situation that the local Habitat chapter doesn’t have experience handling.

“This is really the first time we've had a disaster and it was a big one,” Pyron said. “As you can look around and see, this house (Atwill’s) is standing. It's one of the only ones.”

Pyron said the people in the Cayce community she's been interacting with want to come home and the local Habitat group wants to be a part of that.

“We may build three houses if we can get some help to come in and do the work, help us do the work,” Pyron said. “I know the supplies will probably come and we have some money.”

Pyron said they’ve had lots of offers of assistance from groups all over.

“Our goal is to get things to the point where we'll have work to do and supplies there so that when people come, there will be something for them to do,” Pyron said. “We don't want them to be idle. We don't want them to be disappointed that they're not getting to do something because if you're hot to do something, you want to do something. We want to help that happen.”

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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