Local News

March 5, 2012

Friday’s tornado kills five in East Bernstadt

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Severe storms clouded the sunset in Laurel County Friday evening and gave way to a fierce force of nature. The National Weather Service in Jackson, Ky. reported a funnel formed over Wood Creek Lake at around 7 p.m.  

Minutes later, a flash of lightning lit up the sky on Bentley Road in East Bernstadt that revealed a funnel whistling northeast from I-75 bound for eye-witness Aaron Holt’s home.

“It was horrific. We didn’t see it because it was so black and cloudy but when the lightning struck that’s when we saw it,” Holt said.

Aaron Holt and his wife, Tori, rode out the storm with about 10 of his closest neighbors in his basement.  Up the road, James Sawyers sat, bent over his bathtub in his double-wide trailer, praying.  

Sawyers was left with his life, but not much else.

“All I got left is me and my car,” he said on Saturday morning as he stood atop a littered ground where is trailer once stood.

Ethel Pruitt was not as lucky.

She was killed when the tornado destroyed her mobile home on Bentley Road.  Another occupant of the home was critically injured.

The tornado’s destructive path drew further northeast as it touched down on Old Hare Road, and then Little Arthur Ridge Road.

The tornado claimed the lives of five Laurel Countains, either that very night or by injuries sustained from the tornado.  Other fatalities were: Wilburn and Virginia “Lizzie” Pitman of Old Hare Road; and Sherman  Wayne and Debbie Allen of Little Arthur Ridge Road.

On Little Arthur Ridge Road, Candace Wright was about to head to neighbor Donald Rhode’s basement when the tornado whipped over the ridge, wiping away four mobile homes in its wake.  

“It was a loud roaring sound just like they say, like a train,” Wright said. “We just didn’t have time.”

Five people rode out the tornado in Rhodes’ basement on Little Arthur Ridge Road, just across the street from where Sherman Wayne and Debbie Allen were killed.

“We heard it coming and I tried to get everyone down in the basement,” Rhodes said. “It took me a while but I finally got everyone, including the dog.”

Rhode’s home was completely torn away by the tornado, leaving nothing but the basement walls where the five sought refuge.

“We got knocked around a bit and some stuff fell on us, but we all got out,” he said.

The Allens did not.

“We realized the Allens were missing so the men went looking for them.  They went down over the bank into the holler in the woods — that’s where they found them,” Wright said.

Debbie and Sherman Wayne Allen along with their son Eric Allen and his fiancé Amy Harris were thrown from their mobile home they sought shelter within.  Debbie and Sherman Wayne Allen were found dead late Friday night. Eric Allen and Harris were found soon after by emergency personnel and received treatment for their injuries.  

At that time, first responders across the county began pouring into East Bernstadt areas in droves.  Those found injured like Harris were flown to the UK Medical Center in Lexington.  Many roads such as Hawk Creek and Radford were tough to navigate through to retrieve families trapped and injured because of a heavy layer of debris and trees.  

At 8 p.m. many families emerged from their homes without power to ingest all that happened within a short hour and assisted with emergency personnel in finding lost neighbors.  Many worked through the night within pummeled neighborhoods, at designated shelters and local churches awaiting those displaced from their homes while Saint Joseph-London hospital was teeming with patients.  The Laurel County Road Department completely cleared the roads of all debris and as soon as the sun rose, emergency workers, volunteers from Jackson, Knox, Whitley, Clay counties as well as The Kentucky National Guard provided helping hands to those in need.  

“This has been one of the most devastating incidents we have had in Laurel County,” said Gilbert Acciardo, public affairs officer of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Department.

Five fatalities have currently been confirmed in Laurel County, 41 injured, six of which were air-lifted to UK Medical Center and two are listed in critical condition.  Traffic control was provided on Saturday by Laurel County Sheriff’s Deputies, Kentucky State Police Troopers and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officers, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Kentucky National Guard.  Assisting to confirm fatalities was Laurel County Coroner Doug Bowling and coordinating efforts were the Laurel County Emergency Management, Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department, East Bernstadt Fire Department, Lily Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel County Fire Department, London-Laurel Rescue Squad, and McWhorter Volunteer Fire Department.  Many ambulances from Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County as well as ambluances from Knox, Whitley Jackson and Clay counties assisted in removing injured victims.

Other county officials who responded to assist on-scene included Sheriff John Root, Commonwealth Attorney Jackie Steele, Circuit Clerk Rodger Schott and Judge Executive David Westerfield.  The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management is in charge of allocating the disaster areas of Laurel County and a thorough inspection of the affected area is being conducted and continued.

Visit the following link for a video documentary of storm coverage:

Text Only
Local News
  • Unfit home Deputies remove three children from 'unfit' home in London

    Three Laurel County children were removed from a filthy East Bernstadt home that Laurel County Sheriff’s deputies described  as the worst home they had ever been in.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Porn arrest London man jailed on child porn charges

    Kentucky State Police at Post 11 arrested a London man under pretenses of child exploitation Tuesday.


    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Firefighters Firefighters honor 2 who gave ultimate sacrifice

    They sacrifice precious family time and sleep time to save the lives and property of people they often don’t even know.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Steele: Much goes into selecting a grand jury

    Long before a case goes to criminal court, it first must go through the many steps of the legal hoops. One such step is being indicted by a grand jury.

    July 21, 2014

  • Rice performs at the public library

    Louisville based singer/songwriter Butch Rice performed his brand of 'acoustic pop and coffeehouse folk music' for a crowd of over 40 people at the Laurel County Public Library on Tuesday afternoon.

    July 21, 2014

  • Addictions come in many forms

    Addiction can be a powerful disease, especially when it comes to young and developing minds. Kentucky's struggles with drug addiction has been well documented, and these struggles can start early in life.

    July 21, 2014

  • Murder case going to grand jury

    The fate of a man charged with the fatal shooting of a Tennessee man earlier this month is now in the hands of a  Laurel grand jury.

    July 21, 2014

  • Triathlon  A test of endurance

    More than 130 triathletes made their way to Laurel River Lake on Saturday to take in the region's scenery in the best possible way: swimming, biking, and running for more than 70 total miles.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Emergency Triathlete collapses during event

    A Corbin man collapsed while competing in the inaugural Laurel Lake Triathlon on Saturday, prompting emergency workers to make their way out to the scenic event.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • East Bernstadt BOE raises preschool tuition

    The East Bernstadt Independent Board of Education approved a motion to raise fees for tuition-based preschool students during its monthly meeting Thursday, July 10.

    July 18, 2014

AP Video
Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence NYPD Chief Calls for 'use of Force' Retraining VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress Bush: Don't Worry, Sugarland Isn't Breaking Up US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Holder Urges Bipartisanship on Immigration Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball US Airlines Cancel Israel Flights Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Crash Victims' Remains Reach Ukraine-held City Diplomatic Push Intensifies to End War in Gaza Cat Fans Lap Up Feline Film Festival Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide

Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
     View Results