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About a dozen western Kentucky rebuilding projects in the works with Samaritan's Purse

Damage to homes in Mayfield after the December 2021 tornado outbreak.
Derek Operle
Damage to homes in Mayfield after the December 2021 tornado outbreak.

More than eight months after the December tornado outbreak, many organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse, are working on rebuilding efforts across west Kentucky.

Currently, Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, has about a dozen rebuilding projects in the works. Tim Cottrell, Samaritan’s Purse’s project superintendent for western Kentucky, said they’ve got about half a dozen projects in Mayfield, four underway in the area between Benton and Dawson Springs, and one more in Cayce in Fulton County. Their program in western Kentucky is the group’s largest to date.

Cottrell, who’s a general contractor, arrived in February about two months after the tornado outbreak. When the Samaritan’s Purse group got to Mayfield, they took over an old warehouse and turned it into their base of operations. They also had to prepare the location for RVs and campers for their workers to stay in.

“We're here for the long haul to get it done and we don't want to leave anybody left out,” Cottrell said.

There is currently no cut off date for the organization to be leaving the area.

Samaritan’s Purse is a private group that’s funded on donations, not with government money or funds.

“The funds are totally out of our Samaritan’s Purse bucket of funds, you might say,” Cottrell said. “We finish the house at our expense and we have a dedication ceremony where we turn it over to the homeowner.”

The group is planning to have its first dedication ceremony in the region next week in Mayfield.

Along with the rebuilding and repair efforts, Samaritan’s Purse has developed a program for renters in the area. Cottrell said they’re building a subdivision on the outskirts of Mayfield to help offset the need for rental housing in the area. The group also has a furniture program people can submit applications to in order to fill their home again.

“We also have storm shelters that we're hoping to put in as many as 100 in the locations where people want to have them in their yard,” Cottrell said. “For homeowners that already have a house that's not damaged, but just in the area of the storm, they can also apply to have a storm shelter buried in their yard.”

For the homes that Samaritan’s Purse is building in this project, a safe room is being built. Cottrell described it as a bathroom-utility room combination made out of concrete, steel reinforcing bars and masonry.

He estimated that each home takes about six months to complete, but the home the group is planning to dedicate next week only took about four months. He said the safe room in the home is a Federal Emergency Management Agency approved structure designed to withstand highly-rated, more violent tornadoes, which Cottrell said slows down the construction process some.

“Even if the house gets tore apart, the little room will still be standing and they can go in there, lock themselves in,” Cottrell said.

Samaritan’s Purse tries to limit their rebuilding efforts to within about an hour’s drive from their regional home base, which is in Mayfield for this project. If someone outside of that range needs assistance, the group has a materials assistance program people can apply for assistance from Samaritan’s Purse with purchasing materials as they’re finding their own contractor.

Along with the projects already underway, Cottrell said there’s at least two dozen more projects in the works along with the efforts to build the new subdivision near Mayfield. All of the numbers Cottrell has for expected projects are approximations and estimates because the numbers grow each week.

“We have some homes that are just a concrete footing poured into the ground all the way up to another home that is in the finishing stages of having the light fixtures installed and the plumbing fixtures installed,” Cottrell said.

The application for a home from Samaritan’s Purse is 11 pages long and asks a variety of questions to help with the vetting process. It asks about things like money someone has received from insurance or from FEMA to see what work people are willing to do to maintain their homes. Cottrell said the group doesn’t take any funds from homeowners for the building process, and if there are funds that are required to go into the rebuilding of a home, the homeowner can put those in a separate building fund at a building supply house like Lowes that the group’s logistician will manage.

“We like to help people that are willing to help themselves and show themselves responsible,” Cottrell said.

For those interested in an application, one can be picked up from the Samaritan’s Purse office manager at their Mayfield office or get one by calling the organization’s main office.

“I would encourage the community to not hesitate to call and ask us for help in the way of housing,” Cottrell said.

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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