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A Town After a Tornado

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 10, 2023 3:05 am

A Town After a Tornado

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 10, 2023 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, listener Paul Kotz shares about his service trip to Mayfield, Kentucky several months after a tornado devastated the town.

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With a deal like this, they won't last long. And we continue with our American stories. And now a story from one of our listeners, Paul Kotz from the Twin Cities. Paul is also a professor at St. Mary's University of Minnesota. Today, Paul is sharing with us a story about when he visited Mayfield, Kentucky, a town that had recently been hit by a devastating tornado.

Here's Paul. Mayfield, more than a memory. That is what I saw on the side of one of the buildings that was still standing when I heard on the news that a tornado swept through the town area December 11, 2021. I decided to organize a road trip.

Road trips to unknown places for me have this sense of adventure, mystery, and a time to untap new possibilities of understanding other communities but also getting a better idea of yourself. It started with a GoFundMe page. For me, shortly after the tornado had hit, generous individuals gave money to support this town, which was hit in the middle of the night in mid-December. And as the daylight approached, people saw with their very own eyes that their entire community was ruined by Mother Nature.

I spoke with Cindy from Assembly of God Church by phone before we departed and she said, the good Lord has not blessed us with the best weather. If you saw the town of Mayfield, this was an understatement. They were then hit with an ice storm soon afterward, which incapacitated residents for a few days.

The salt shack had been destroyed by the tornado, so they were in need to melt the snow building up. When the tornado hit, it intensified, reaching high-end EF4 levels as it tore directly through the center of town, resulting in widespread catastrophic damage throughout that historic downtown square of Mayfield. Most of the structures in downtown were heavily damaged or destroyed, including multiple large, well-built, multi-story brick buildings that completely collapsed.

Only large piles of bricks and lumber remained in the hardest hit portions of the downtown area, and streets were left buried under the debris. The large and well-constructed Graves County Courthouse had much of its roof torn off, sustained collapse of its clock tower, and had some of its exterior upper floor walls knocked down. Several restaurants, an indoor soccer facility, a barber shop, an automotive business, gym, bank, movie theater, health and rehab center, and many other businesses were destroyed.

Even the Emergency Operations Center lost the ability to transmit radio communications. Three large churches were destroyed in downtown Mayfield. A school bus garage, metal industrial buildings, and apartment buildings also sustained major structural damage or were destroyed in other areas of town. Residential areas of the city were devastated as well, with numerous homes being damaged, including many that were actually leveled or swept from their foundations. Also, many trees sustained severe debarking, while cars were thrown hundreds of yards and mangled. Some dual polarization radar imagery the news mentioned showed that the tornado had lofted debris up to 30,000 feet into the air as it impacted the city.

And more importantly, and sadly, 22 people were killed in and around Mayfield, with hundreds more injured, many severely. Meanwhile, my driving partner Paul and I ended up in West Frankfort, Illinois at around 1030 p.m. after having started at 7 a.m. in the Twin Cities. We traveled through small towns such as Canton, Missouri, heading into Illinois on our way to Mayfield.

We were lucky before we ventured from St. Paul South. A dear colleague dropped off 20-plus quilts to give to residents. Her church colleagues made these for a cause such as this, and so we loaded those in my jeep, along with our own suitcases and supplies, and ventured out. The GoFundMe funds served as a springboard for money to be used in Mayfield and given to the city hall.

We were so grateful that these funds could go to good use. We were on a road trip with a mission. We were headed to a distribution site at the county fairgrounds and much awaited us. If we could offer even a temporary relief, get a new education of what a town goes through, when much, if not all, is wiped out by a tornado, then we were open to a new challenge. Giving people hope was the main objective. We made it to Mayfield in one piece and had a great day moving many supplies and pallets of supplies, all the while working in the heart of where devastation hit the town.

We worked in collaboration in a massive effort with Army, National Guard, locals, and those from the outside. In Mayfield, Kentucky, it will take decades to get back to normal, but I remain hopeful because the people are strong. The people we worked with at the distribution center in the heart of Mayfield at the fairgrounds were welcoming and in need of help. They all gave hope to a situation that looked like a war zone. The debris had been cleared off many streets, but metal twisted around poles, structures overturned, roofs missing, cars destroyed, and even a multitude of RVs were brought in to give temporary housing and shelter to the displaced. My new friend Dora asked me to move plastic gas cans donated to be removed from a top shelf and brought within her reach. I asked her if she was a resident of Mayfield. She explained yes, and with hopeful words, I love my town, but when I came through the devastation recently, I actually got lost because all the markers I once knew were gone.

When you work with others and share stories, you build a common bond that even though you may not walk together again in, you connected and found that we are all so similar in what we need as people, love, care, and a place to call home, and a purpose. Well shipment after shipment came in. My colleague and I spent most of our time with that hydraulic equipment, moving paper products such as towels, toiletries, diapers, baby wipes, hand cleansers, toothpaste, bags, food, all the sites on the floor of the fairgrounds. Sometimes donations were mixed. I came upon what I thought were some gray towels.

They were in fact Depends. Colleen, one of the coordinators with a vision for the big picture, said, you never know when you need a diaper, no matter what your age. We all laughed. She said, glad you have a sense of humor.

I need to see people laugh and smile around me. It helps get me through each day. Earlier in the morning, I had thrown out my lower back, but as I stretched it out, I said to myself, I can't let these people down.

Somehow my pain subsided to get the task done. As the night approached, and as we got back to rest for the night, the pain emerged again, but I felt good that we could laugh and be present with others who spent days trying to rebuild their lives and their town. As we got our rhythm, my colleague and I seemed to be on automatic pilot, and I trained others in the process of transport and stocking and serving the residents who desired goods to sustain their lives.

You could feel the love and the camaraderie. Everyone wanted each other to succeed in our common mission to serve Mayfield. On Saturday night, we took a little time to go to a bar named in honor of Bob Seger's song Night Moves, and a guy named Bob came up to me and said, great to see you again.

He talked about Super Bowl picks, how he moved from Chicago to Paducah and never regretted it. Since I was in Kentucky, I had to have a jack on ice. Here, you approach the bar, get your drink, and then take your seat. The band bellowed, tip your weight stamp generously, and then launched into another song from the 80s and later. The fact is, I had never been here myself or with my colleague until this night. The music was very good, and the vocalist and guitar player entertained us with stories and played three different sets with a drummer who even stopped to see us, noting we were having a very good time and was glad that we came out.

After another set, I tried a tequila sunrise, and my colleague was enjoying the songs. The guy who claimed to know me kept telling me about his own experiences and how an apartment complex he owned had been three quarters down the road. Had been three quarters devastated, but hope was sustaining him and the insurance adjusters were working on it. I hope a decade from now or sooner, Mayfield and surrounding areas will be thriving again so people can recognize their neighborhoods. The people's spirits at times seem diminished, but their sense of hope and care for one another, guided by God's intentions for the future, shed light on a tough situation. Someday I would like to go back, and it will be a new, beautiful, vibrant reality and community, and not just a memory. They do it when tornadoes hit, when hurricanes hit. Heck, sometimes they just do it to feed people who are hungry or just hurting.

The story of Paul Kotz, his mission of mercy, and the story of Mayfield, Kentucky, here on Our American Story. This February, Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades, snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan A Royal Romance, or crank up the action with Godfather of Harlem from MGM+. Get down and funky with the Classic Soul playlist from iHeartRadio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app. Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Give yourself the gift of a great night when you search HUD App on your App Store.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-10 04:45:42 / 2023-02-10 04:50:55 / 5

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