The March 2, 2017 tornado that ravished parts of the East Bernstadt community destroyed and damaged many homes.


The storms that moved through Laurel County on Wednesday were a stark reminder for many East Bernstadt residents who were victims of the deadly tornado five years ago.

It was a similar day on March 2, 2012 when predictions of violent storms with tornado-producing tendencies came to a harsh reality for many people in the northern section of the county.


Burton and Barbara Bentley were two of those victims on Bentley Road where the first fatality of the tornado was reported. The victim was Burton’s sister, Ethel Pruitt, who lived a few hundred yards from Burton’s house. 

Barbara Burton remembers that evening very well. It’s one she will never forget. 

She said Burton and some neighbors were outside on the porch while listening to TV and weather radio predictions of the oncoming storm when they saw the tornado coming directly at them. The couple ran into their mobile home and took shelter in the bathroom.

“The storm lifted us up and sat us back down, as easy as could be,” Barbara said. “When it was quiet we went out and the planks of a building Burton had started building had busted through the walls. There were planks, mud and grass all in the house and half of the roof was gone.”

Barbara remembers the complete darkness after the tornado hit, although it was only around 7 p.m. 

“Burton said he was going to go out and see if anyone was hurt and if he could help them,” she continued. “Right about then, one of his family came up and said they couldn’t find Ethel.”

Several neighbors joined together to check the neighborhood that is set just off the northbound lane of Interstate 75. It was then they discovered an 18-wheeler that had been picked up off the interstate, landing in the ditchline between Bentley Road and the interstate.

It was also about that time that Pruitt was discovered outside her demolished mobile home. She was the first fatality reported of the deadly tornado. Her daughter, Dorothy, died from injuries from the tornado exactly six weeks later at the University of Kentucky Medical Center where she had remained since the tornado. 

The Bentleys were some of the luckier victims of the tornado. Their home, although damaged, remained livable and the couple stayed there during the cleanup efforts. 

“We were lucky. Some people lost everything they had. We could still live in our trailer,” Barbara said. “We lost our barn, but we didn’t lose any animals.”

She feels the survival of the animals is a miracle in itself. One of their dogs was in a doghouse that was picked up and thrown across their yard when the tornado hit. A young heifer was in a stall in the barn but was spared injury when the barn collapsed around it.

“Burton had an old blue truck in the barn that was loaded with mulch. The barn fell in but the truck held up the part where the heifer was,” Barbara explained. “I still have that dog and heifer - she’s a cow now.”

After the storm, the Bentleys and hundreds of other families were left to recuperate, reorganize and rebuild. For them, the change came quicker than for many other survivors. Within a year, the Bentleys had a new double wide trailer, had a new barn nearly completed and had built a storm shelter just a few feet from their house - built into an embankment.

Barbara said the tornado was an experience she will never forget but she believes that her son, who died at only age 10, was watching over them.

“I still had all his stuff. I couldn’t give it away. But none of it was destroyed,” she said. “I don’t believe I could have stood it if I’d had to go pick up his stuff all over the place.”

They were also fortunate that most of their tools and equipment was spared damage from the tornado. But Barbara said several feeding troughs and hay rings were never found.

“I think they blew over the cliffs,” she said.

Now, five years later, the neighborhood has pretty much rebuilt similar to the pre-tornado state. Several trailers that were destroyed in the storm have been replaced with newer models. Homes that sustained damage have been repaired and the families are doing well, Barbara said.

The only section along Bentley Road is the lot where Ethel Pruitt and her daughter lived - and died. Five years after the storm that took their lives, that plot of land still shows the handiwork that Pruitt put in with a reddish-pink bush and shrubbery bordering it from the road. That lot, according to Barbara, has recently been purchased by a couple from Richmond who plan to live there. 

“Everybody else has built back and doing good,” she said. “But I had never been afraid of storms before and now I’m terrified. Whenever I hear about a storm coming, I go out on the porch and watch the skies. I’ve even gone to the storm shelter a few times. 

“That’s something I will never forget and something I never want anyone else to have to go through,” she said.


Although she suffers from some memory loss after being injured in the 2012 tornado, Becky Crawford has vivid memories of the night that an F-4 tornado touched down in the East Bernstadt area.

Crawford and her family lived near the intersection of Radford Road with Little Arthur Ridge Road and had heard predictions of a tornado in the area. But she, her daughter, husband and father had no way to leave to find shelter.

Her son had gone with a family member and wasn’t home when the tornado hit, but Crawford tried to protect her daughter when she saw the funnel swiftly approaching the area.

“We had the TV on and a scanner and we knew there was a possible tornado but we couldn’t leave,” she said. “Then it hit about 7:23. At first it sounded like a weedeater, then you heard the sound everybody says is like the sound of a train.”

She saw the tornado approaching - a white funnel that reflected purples inside while surrounded by black clouds while the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning reflected in the background.

Crawford said she did what she’d always been told to do if a tornado struck - she ran to the bathroom of her mobile home with her daughter as the trailer began to quake as the wind storm approached.

“I remember people saying to get in the bathtub, but something kept telling me not to,” she said. “So I put my arms around Katie (daughter) and looped my fingers through her belt loops and held on to the sink faucet. I told her whatever happened to not let go of me.”

As the tornado hit, Crawford remembers the lights going out and the floor collapsing underneath her feet. She heard the sound of windows shattering, and the front door being ripped from its frame.

“It was total darkness,” she said. “I knew I was upside down because I could feel blood running down my head and hear boards crashing all around us.”

Crawford and her daughter were thrown into a field, with Crawford knocked unconscious. She awoke when she felt her daughter moving underneath her.

“It split the back of my head open and I lost four pints of blood,” she said. “I couldn’t feel my legs and Katie probably saved my life when she woke me up. I landed on top  of her but she only had about three scratches and some bruises.”

Crawford, however, spent three days at Saint Joseph London with four staples in the back of her head. Stitches were not suitable, she said, because the cuts were so deep. 

“It cracked my skull and the doctors had to open it more because my brain was swelling,” she said. “I didn’t know who Katie was and I told the doctor that Abraham Lincoln was the president.”

With their home destroyed, Crawford’s family took refuge at Baymont Inn, who made rooms available for families affected by the tornado. Her children, like many other families from the area, attended Hazel Green Elementary and the school sent buses to the hotel to transport the students back and forth to school every day.

The community was also more than generous in helping tornado victims. Besides the shelter, food, clothing and supplies given by churches, organizations  and the local United Way volunteers, Crawford said she also received emotional support.

“There were two ladies with the United Way that really helped me,” she said. “I had really bad depression and I really believe if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The family stayed at Baymont Inn for a month, then moved to Arlington Green Apartments on West Ky. 80, where they stayed for three months. 

Although FEMA money provided funds to purchase a new trailer, Crawford and her husband divorced a few years later and she had to start over with her two children once again. 

Now living in London city limits, Crawford is working and continues to recuperate from the effects the tornado left upon her family.

“It’s still rough and Katie is terrified of storms - even just hard rain,” she said. “But we’re doing okay, maybe better than we were before.”


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