November 6, 2012

TORNADO RECOVERY: East Bernstadt families back in homes

Loss of neighbors still fresh in minds

By Magen McCrarey
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — While huddled in their basement, a tornado roared from above and lifted the first floor of their Little Arthur Ridge home right off its foundation.  The powerful and deadly March 2 tornado that hit the East Bernstadt and Hawk Creek communities wiped out four homes across the street from Donald and Carol Rhodes and took the lives of their beloved neighbors, Debbie and Sherman Wayne Allen.

“It’s totally different here and we’re missing Debbie and Wayne.  Knowing they’re dead…they’re not just moved out — they’re gone.  That’s our greatest loss right here because they were wonderful neighbors,” Carol Rhodes said.

Eight months later, the couple has a new home, but the emotions are still heavy.  While re-building has been a struggle, they are happy to finally move back to Little Arthur Ridge this month.  The couple received help from FEMA grants, but not enough to complete the new construction.  

“We had no plans of leaving it,” she said, adding, “FEMA helped some but by the time the basement got done, it was already half gone. People donated their time, labor and materials to help us, and without them we couldn’t have done it because we didn’t have insurance.”

Up the road on Little Arthur Ridge lives Rhodes’ sister, Janie Ison, and her husband, Bob.  Like the Rhodes, the Isons also took in neighbors during the storm.  Both basements were full that night as neighbors and families crouched together waiting on the storm to pass. The tornado ripped off a portion of the Ison’s roof, blew out the living room wall and toppled over a 32 by 60 foot barn.  

“It just got black, black as far as you could see, and by the time we hit the bottom (basement) step, it was in our house — that fast. There was glass, everything tossing, breaking … it was one bad experience,” Janie Ison said.

“It just wasn’t our time to go,” Bob Ison added.

The Isons made a motel their home for four months.  

Insurance covered their home repairs, and a new porch, roof and living room wall was constructed following the clean up of the debris.  For two weeks, local churches and organizations came to visit the neighborhoods affected by the tornado, feeding the families three times a day and helping with the clean up efforts.

“I thank God for all of them,” she said.  “When it was so bad here, they (kids) would come and just walk through picking up sticks to help out.  I appreciated that just as much as I would if there was a guy with his dozer. They’ve really helped us.

“Even the guy from the Red Cross, Coy Prichard, said he’s never seen a community pull together like this one, and they did.”

The tornado injured 41 residents, took out neighborhoods, seized six lives and caused heaps of damage across Laurel County.  But today, homes are being re-built and families are starting over.

“This is home, I know it is, but is seems like it’s not the same.  Our home looks pretty much the same but it’s just different,” Janie Ison said.