Following historic storms, helping hands reach out in so many ways

After tornadoes devastated Western Kentucky on Dec. 10 and 11, the community rallied and support poured in — from contributions of money and supplies to help finding shelter for the suddenly homeless.
by Constance Alexander,

Last week, with news of approaching tornadoes, Kristy Sisk left her house in Princeton, and rushed to the outskirts of Dawson Springs to lend a hand to her parents. In the nick of time, according to reporting by WKMS-FM, the entire family found life-saving refuge in the basement of a nearby empty house.

“It was a very powerful storm,” Sisk said. “It tore the basement door open.”

When it was over, she and her family searched the rubble for coveted keepsakes.

Constance Alexander headshot
Constance Alexander

One missing treasure was a box of letters from ten years before, when Kristy’s oldest daughter, Kylie, then 7, was diagnosed with leukemia. During her treatment, friends and neighbors wrote letters of fellowship and goodwill to ease her recovery.

Although other memorabilia surfaced, the box of Kylie’s cherished letters and cards had vanished.

With the help of Quad State Tornado Found Items Facebook page, strangers from hundreds of miles away were lending a hand to document remnants of belongings online, so families like Kristy’s might locate precious memorabilia swept away in the tornadoes. Imagine the relief when Kristy and her family discovered, through the Facebook page, a written letter that read, “Dear Kylie, God will be with you through everything thick and thin. God has his hand on you. Love, Ashlee.”

After enduring a sleepless night after the tornado, Dawson Springs residents Jenny Sewell and husband David were up at first light to venture outside and check on the well-being of long-time friend and employee, Marsha Hall and her elderly sister.

The Sewell vehicle got a flat tire almost immediately, but they were not deterred. Surveying the carnage along the way, they walked until they reached the corner of School Street and Pine.

Stunned, they stopped at the crest of the hill. The once-familiar landscape was unrecognizable. Marsha’s sons were there, feverishly sifting through layers of rubble in search of their loved ones.

“We all knew,” Sewell said.

Leaving the family to their sad task, she understood there was other work to do.

Owner of the only funeral home in Dawson Springs, she and her staff had to be prepared to console the bereaved and make sure the inevitable funerals were produced without a hitch. Since her own home made it through the turmoil unscathed, she was reminded of words of wisdom that had been shared with her years before.

“If we’re given a blessing, it’s our responsibility to do what we can for others.”

As the days after the tragedy wore on, more offers of support and information emerged. Murray’s NPR affiliate, WKMS, published listings of ways to contribute to disaster relief, from donating money, to providing supplies, to finding shelter for the suddenly homeless.

Scrambling to organize meaningful outreach for individual artists and arts organizations impacted by the storms, the Kentucky Arts Council pulled together a trove of experts for a Zoom session on Friday. KAC’s Emily Moses invited artists and arts organizations in western Kentucky to participate by asking questions and expressing needs. Jan Newcomb, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness & Emergency Response facilitated the discussion.

“This is the beginning of a conversation to share needs, to listen, and to connect you with resources,” she said.

Members of NCAPER’s steering committee were on the call to answer questions and offer advice. Their extensive experience has helped arts organizations recover from disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy, etc. Their knowledge of the unique needs of arts organizations and artists in various disciplines will help guide those affected through the complex process of securing aid.

Participants were encouraged to share information about KAC’s role and to encourage artists and arts organizations to make use of KAC as a hub for the exchange of essential information. The KAC has also assembled a listing of important contacts at artscouncil.ky.gov.

Ms. Newcomb reminded the group, “We have waves of people who will need more help as time goes on. We can’t help unless we know what the needs are. Disaster recovery is a long-term process and support is needed throughout the year and maybe in the next year.”

“Encourage people to register with FEMA,” she went on. “It is a gateway to other resources.”

A follow-up call is scheduled for 2 p.m. CST on Jan. 7. In the meantime, contact KAC’s Emily Moses, Executive Staff Advisor, for additional information. Email emilyb.moses@ky.gov or call 502-892-3109.

Following historic storms, helping hands reach out in so many ways

NKyTribune

The NKyTribune is a nonprofit news outlet and a publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism. It is a nonpartisan, independent news organization that produces indepth, informative journalism in the public interest.