Rural Kentucky community of 200 lost 12 in tornado on Friday: NPR

Bremen, Ky., Population 200, was badly affected by Friday’s tornado. At least 12 people were killed. Bremen is just one of many communities struggling with loss and wondering how to recover.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now in Kentucky, where dozens of people have died after a series of tornadoes swept through the state on Friday night. We have heard a lot about Mayfield, which experienced incredible destruction, but storms devastated many places in western Kentucky. Ryan Van Velzer of WFPL reports a small rural community that has suffered a big loss.

RYAN VAN VELZER, BYLINE: Early Sunday morning, Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman visited the city of Bremen, a population of 200. It is located in Muhlenberg County and is one of many rural communities in western Kentucky that have suffered significant damage and loss.

JACQUELINE COLEMAN: As of this morning, the death toll here is 12. Twelve is a huge number of people for a small community like this.

VAN VELZER: Coleman says it will be some time before we understand the full extent of the destruction from the tornado that traveled more than 200 miles across the state. Outside, people gathered at the local fire station to organize the emergency response before returning to the worst affected areas around Bremen. This included a group of teenagers, who showed up on ATVs ready to help clean up debris, find personal belongings. Macy Fields, 16, says it’s hard to see the community she’s lived in all her life so completely decimated. Her house survived, but her friend lost hers.

MACY FIELDS: The city is unrecognizable in parts. And I, Ashton, and Isaac have lived here all of our lives, and Isaac was really affected. The house he was in collapsed, and it’s just traumatic for him.

VAN VELZER: Muhlenberg County Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Piper said authorities have completed search and rescue and are working to restore power amid freezing temperatures overnight. He says it is so difficult to manage all of this in such a small community that has suffered huge losses.

ALEX PIPER: Obviously, this is a catastrophic event. I know that in my day I have lived all my life in Muhlenberg County. I have never seen anything like it.

VAN VELZER: Piper led me down the path of the tornado, which in some places reached almost a mile wide. We stopped at Lost Valley Farms and spoke with 74 year old farmer Danny Miller as he burned the tornado debris.

DANNY MILLER: We’re just lucky. We listened to the radio – I mean, the television. And he said go down – go to your basement, and I went to the basement.

VAN VELZER: But while he and his wife were safe, his farm suffered significant damage. The tornado sucked the lid of a grain silo, spilling corn on the road. Miller said it could be a loss of $ 100,000. The roof has blown off the house of Miller’s daughter, who lives across the street. They too survived by going down to the basement. But just down the street, two of Miller’s close family members died.

MILLER: I lost a brother and a … and his wife because of it. They didn’t – they lived in a double-large, and they didn’t – they didn’t.

VAN VELZER: Miller says he doesn’t know if he’ll ever get over it, but he says he’s going to rebuild. And he won’t do it alone. Thousands of Kentuckians are in the same situation, and thousands more are reaching out to help.

For NPR News, I’m Ryan Van Velzer in Bremen, Ky.

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