March 12, 2012

‘Kentuckians pull together:' Governor brings message of hope to tornado victims

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — An entourage of nearly a dozen cars traveled the backroads of Laurel County on Wednesday, as Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear toured the areas where Friday’s tornadoes destroyed both lives and homes.

But even a killer tornado doesn’t dampen the hopes and dreams of thousands of Kentuckians who continue the cleanup and repair of their homes and property.

“I’m not surprised at the outpouring of love and support that I’ve seen over the state,” Beshear said. “The people of Kentucky are like a family, pulling together.”

Beshear did praise the cleanup efforts in Laurel County, with state and county road crews working diligently to cut trees, clear roads and pile debris from the storm into specified spots along the tornado route.

“They’ve already made a huge difference,” said Kentucky State Police Post 11 Commander Scott Miller. “This looks great to what it was over the weekend.”

Miller was speaking about the area along Arthur Ridge Road, an area hard hit by the destructive tornado. Wayne and Debbie Allen died from injuries when the storm threw their mobile home over a hillside on Little Arthur Ridge Road. Their son, Eric, and his fiancee Amy Harris sustained serious injuries in that incident. Just across a steep hollow from there, on Pitman Road, Wilburn and Virginia Pitman died when the storm smashed their mobile home into a tree line, pinning them inside until family members located them in the midst of the darkness left behind. Ethel Pruitt was also killed when the tornado crossed Interstate 75 from the Hawk Creek area and ripped a mobile home from its foundation before crashing it to bits a few hundred yards away.

Hundreds of other people suffered injuries and property damage from the onslaught of the tornado, many who now have only rubble and debris left from what was once their home.

Beshear said this is the 11th presidentially declared disaster since he took office in 2008.

The gubernatorial entourage stopped briefly at Arthur Ridge Baptist Church, where tornado survivor Jason Jackson told about his horrific experience. Jackson had just arrived home with his two children, whom he keeps on weekends, when he heard the roar of a train often associated with tornadic activity. He pulled a chair over his son and daughter, wrapped his arms around them and told them to hold on tightly. As his home was tossed by the tornado, Jackson said he kept hanging on to his children but the force of the winds yanked his daughter from him. Bruised and broken, Jackson said he tried fervently to find his daughter when the storm subsided but was unsuccessful. He ran with his son to a neighbor’s house, where he spotted his daughter safely inside. Jackson said he dropped to his knees after seeing his daughter.

Now, with scrapes and bruises all over his body, Jackson is one of the survivor stories among all the despair and devastation that haunts the northern part of the county.

But resilience and resolution again are credited by Beshear, as demonstrated by the large number of churches that continue to provide hot food and drinks for the victims as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

“The churches are giving hope, which is what these folks need,” Beshear said. “We want them to know there is a future and that we’re going to be helping all we can.

“No matter the disaster, the people of Kentucky always do the same thing,” he said. “It’s like we are a family. Kentuckians pull together, act together, and step up for family, friends, and even strangers, to help.”