Grim toll tallied again after weekend tornado tears through some places hit in 2021

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

Sitting on her front porch surrounded by tornado damage, Tabatha Adams never imagined being on the other side of disaster recovery. 

As the former president of her local Rotary Club, she helped her neighbors when Dawson Springs grappled with the devastating aftermath of an EF-4 tornado in December 2021. The Western Kentucky city of about 2,400 lost 75% of its housing while 19 residents lost their lives in the severe weather outbreak that killed 74 Kentuckians. 

Adams organized disaster grants, totaling $180,000 in 2022 she said, to help her neighbors rebuild and spearheaded the construction of a memorial remembering those killed from Dawson Springs.

But now, it’s her own family that is receiving help from neighbors she had previously aided. Kentucky faced the brunt of another tornado outbreak Sunday with a particularly strong tornado — one that spurred the National Weather Service to issue a rare “tornado emergency” — tearing a track just north of Dawson Springs city limits through the unincorporated communities of Charleston and Barnsley.

A survey by the National Weather Service found the tornado to be of EF-3 strength with peak wind speeds of 160 mph and a peak width of 700 yards or nearly a half-mile. The Sunday tornado’s track was north of the path taken by the 2021 tornado and through a less densely populated area.

Gov. Andy Beshear said five people across the state were killed in the storms, including a 48-year-old woman from Hopkins County. Fatalities also were reported in Caldwell, Hardin and Mercer counties and in Louisville. At least 14 counties have declared states of emergency, and tens of thousands still were without power across the state as of Tuesday afternoon. 

About 40 homes across Hopkins County have been significantly damaged or are complete losses from the Sunday tornado, according to Kevin Cotton, the mayor of the Hopkins County seat of Madisonville. That included Adams’ home along Daylight Road, considered an epicenter of damage from the twister: her two-car garage and barn were both toppled, shingles torn off her roof and windows broken throughout her house. 

A drone photo of damage to Tabatha Adams' home.
Tabatha Adams’ garage and barn were toppled, as seen in this drone photo, by a tornado Sunday that tore across Hopkins County. (Courtesy of Tabatha Adams)

But she’s grateful her family, dog and cats are safe. She’s also not having to rebuild a second time; some homes hit by the Sunday storms were damaged or destroyed in the 2021 tornado. Adams said the 2021 tornado had missed her home by less than a mile. 

“We’re talking not even three years ago these people were picking up their lives and rebuilding,” Adams said. “Here they are again. It is unimaginable and unthinkable, and it just really makes you wonder why.” 

In recent decades, more tornado outbreaks have shifted geographically to the mid-South including Western Kentucky, which scientists say is connected to the impacts of climate change. More warm, moist air is coming from the Gulf of Mexico to collide with colder air from the Western U.S., fueling potential tornadoes across the South, scientists say.

In Hopkins County, recovery efforts at least have a head start because of the existing recovery infrastructure and knowledge on how to respond, said Heath Duncan, the co-chair of the Hopkins County Long Term Recovery Committee. 

Duncan, who’s also the executive director of the regional Habitat for Humanity organization, said a surge of hundreds of volunteers since Sunday has arrived to help clear debris and check on survivors. But the financial costs of recovery, especially what costs will ultimately be borne by local communities and residents, is still being realized. 

Duncan said the 2021 tornado destroyed not only homes but also city infrastructure from water lines to sidewalks. Rebuilding to better withstand future storms can be an “incredibly expensive endeavor,” he added. He said financial support moving forward will still likely rely on generosity of local donors and state and federal governments. 

“The process of long term recovery work has been difficult the last two years, and for me personally, the hardest thing that I’ve had to do in life,” Duncan said, mentioning he feels frustrated on the verge of anger at times over his community’s situation. “A lot of us are just tired from the 2021 tornado, and so now every time a storm blows through we’re like, ‘Please, we can’t handle anything else.’” 

Gov. Andy Beshear in a press conference with emergency management officials Monday said he believed the storm damage from across numerous counties, particularly in Western Kentucky, would qualify the disaster for FEMA’s public assistance program, which provides grants to restore infrastructure. 

But individual survivors being able to apply to FEMA for disaster aid is not guaranteed; Beshear said it would take every Kentuckian impacted to document their damage and report it for FEMA to open up aid to individuals. That’s especially crucial, he said, for those impacted who are uninsured. 

“Your willingness to track your damage and to turn it in is what could help a neighbor or someone you don’t even know from another county get that help,” Beshear said. 

While state officials wait to hear if and what federal disaster assistance Kentuckians will receive, local Hopkins County residents are still working long hours in the immediate aftermath to help their neighbors. 

Meredith and David Hyde only moved back into a newly constructed home in Dawson Springs less than two years ago after their original home was made unlivable after the 2021 tornado. On Tuesday afternoon, they drove around damaged areas in Charleston dropping off monetary donations made possible by the local Rotary Club to survivors. 

Meredith Hyde, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, said she’s been mindful to provide survivors with mental health resources when they need it, some of them still processing the shock of the disaster. David and she don’t have many memories from the first couple of weeks after the 2021 tornado, she said, and “neither one of us I don’t think could have made it without the other one.” 

She mentioned one woman they were visiting provided them $500 worth of kitchen supplies after the 2021 tornado. 

“This community just takes care of each other,” Hyde said. “This is not about having to do it. This is about wanting to do it.”

Storm damage as seen above of Tabatha Adams' home.
A drone photo of Tabatha Adams’ home in Hopkins County following Sunday’s storms. (Courtesy of Tabatha Adams)

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter. Kentucky Lantern stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Donate to Kentucky Lantern here.