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Fulton County commemorates relief efforts after first anniversary of devastating tornado

Mason Galemore
Mark Dowdy speaks to Fulton County residents during the Cayce Comeback Celebration.

Cayce was one of several towns commemorating the first anniversary of the deadly and historic tornado outbreak that hit the region this weekend.

The catastrophic storm system – which came to western Kentucky after hitting parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois – swept across 11 counties late on Dec. 10, 2021, causing an estimated $3.5 billion dollars in damage and killing 81 Kentuckians. It produced one of the ten longest tornado tracks in recorded U.S. history, one that stayed on the ground for more than three hours and traveled 165 miles.

The Fulton County community marked the occasion at the United Methodist Church, where first responders and volunteers — including some from Habitat for Humanity and Project Recovery Kentucky— were recognized for their work in the aftermath of the tornado.

Fulton-Hickman Habitat for Humanity chapter chair Cherry Pyron said she and her team are thankful for the support they’ve received while helping rebuild the community.

“Millions of homes are built internationally by Habitat for Humanity,” Pyron said. “These volunteers come in caravans and work for free. Usually our affiliate will build an average of one home per year but this year we built four, which is phenomenal.”

Mason Galemore
Volunteers came from 17 states to help Fulton County following the tornado.

Mark Dowdy is the pastor of Cayce Baptist Church and the head of the Fulton County Long Term Recovery Group. He said it was good to see his community come together to celebrate the speed of recovery locally and to remember what was lost in the disaster.

“Recovery has been above and beyond from every other county I have seen,” Dowdy said. “We have had people from 17 states come here to Cayce to help us clean up and rebuild.”

Larry Gardner – who has lived in Cayce for 75 years – lost his home to the tornado.

“This community was completely devastated,” Gardner said. “Every house along highway [State Route] 94 was destroyed. It's sad it takes a disaster sometimes to bring a community together but when we do it's really good.”

Meteorologist Beau Dodson gave a presentation at the event, educating community members on how the Dec. 10 tornado outbreak started and about precautions they can take in the next time a tornado is headed their way.

Dodson said communities like Cayce are familiar with severe weather even before Dec. 10 and that many west Kentucky residents let their guard down, which is unfortunate because some of the most severe weather can happen in the fall and winter seasons.

“If it feels warmer during the winter months, that’s when you should start paying attention to the weather,” Dodson said. “If it doesn’t feel right, it's not right. We tell people to be prepared but not scared. The more you know about tornadoes and the more your anxiety will go down.”

Dodson recommends people use the Missouri Storm Aware website to learn more about tornadoes and how to prepare.

Mason Galemore is a Murray State student studying journalism. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. Since then has explored different publication avenues such as broadcasting. He hopes to travel as a journalist documenting conflict zones and different cultures. He remembers watching the Arab Spring in 2011 via the news when he was a kid, which dawned in a new age of journalism grounded in social media. His favorite hobbies are hiking, photography, reading, writing and playing with his Australian Shepard, Izzy. He is originally from Charleston, Missouri.
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