MAYFIELD, Ky. — They tied themselves with ropes to a basement sewer pipe as a tornado ripped their home apart just a few feet above them.
It was how Shirley Poole, her boyfriend and two grandchildren survived a tornado that left their block, and town, in apocalyptic ruins.
God, she said, had wrapped his arms around them.
But by Sunday – standing near her bedroom wall collapsed by a telephone pole, a child’s desk perched in the open air and home-canned beans scattered among broken glass and debris on the floor – it was the future that was worrying the 54-year-old.
‘Completely devastated’:Kentucky town left mourning, in ruins after catastrophic tornado
They were fine with power from a car plug and water from bottles and their water heater for now. But anxious questions hung in the air. How long could they live like this? When could they rebuild, and how?
“It’s a little scary,” she said.
More than 1,000 area residents lost their homes in the tornado, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said on Sunday as state and federal agencies worked to assess the damage and FEMA’s top official visited Mayfield and promised a flood of federal aid.
“Housing is going to be such a tremendous need,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, explaining the agency would help map out long-term housing plans along with short-term aid.
Electricity, water and gas were still off for many Mayfield residents. Some like Poole were making due at home, while others left for motels in Paducah or elsewhere, friends’ homes, state parks and temporary shelters.
In a community center in nearby Wingo called “The Way,” dozens of people had spread toiletries, blankets and teddy bears among a sea of cots. They ate food on folding tables.
‘We were trapped’:Kentucky candle factory survivors recount escape from deadly tornado
On one cot was Linda Erickson, 73, who said a resident of her apartment building had died when a wall fell on her and the building was deemed unsafe. She hoped to get her cat the next day.
“How am I going to get my stuff out, with movers, when they don’t even want us going in there?” she said.
Next to her was Angela Legat, who left her apartment with no power, heat or water and a dangerous gas leak. She couldn’t afford a hotel, so she came to the shelter and worried about freezing temperatures. Her daughter played on a computer nearby.
She said she hasn’t been able to go to work as a medical assistant, fueling her anxiety.
Her daughter kept asking her a hard question: “When can we go back to our house?” she said.
Legat was among those who were awaiting news about workers at the local candle factory, which was struck by the storm with 110 people inside.
Despite the uncertainty, there were hopeful signs in Mayfield on Sunday. Utility crews worked on power lines downtown as crews boarded up windows and piled debris. A drugstore reopened with the help of a generator, and a food truck was serving customers.
Donations poured in from across the county, from a woman who drove up from Georgia to help clean up to Louisville’s Muslim Americans for Compassion, which delivered supplies.
At His House Ministries in Mayfield, residents lined up in cars and crowded the church for water, toiletries, clothing, food and even generators. A trailer brought in by nonprofit Mercy Chefs, which responds to disasters, was preparing to cook thousands of meals each day.
Resident Timothy Wharton, who was picking up water with his wife Amy, said his family survived after he “shut the closet and prayed,” but the house was without power. When kids might return to school or his job at a shoe factory might restart was far from certain.
‘It’s devastating’:See the damage of the tornado that tore through Kentucky and other states
“We don’t even know if we have a job,” he said.
While resources flowed in, U.S. Rep. James Comer, who represents the area, cautioned that rebuilding would be “a very long process.”
As the sun went down, some churches smashed in the tornado held Sunday services in loaner churches outside town.
Bob Waldridge, pastor of the badly damaged Yahweh Baptist Church in Mayfield, said he held a service Sunday in a loner chapel.
He said he worried about the struggles his flock would face amid a long rebuilding but said the tight-knit community was already helping each other.
“We’ll get through this,” he said.
Chris Kenning is a statewide enterprise writer. Reach him on Twitter @chris_kenning.
Source: GANNETT Syndication Service