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Grief, despair in small Kentucky town after devastating tornadoes

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First responders retreieve a body from the rubble at a candle factory destroyed by the storm./AFP
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Dec 13, 2021 - 01:13 AM

MAYFIELD, UNITED STATES — Buildings razed, cars overturned, trees ripped from the ground — there were end-of-the-world scenes in the small Kentucky town of Mayfield.

Stunned and shaken, its residents on Saturday tried to grasp the extent of the damage caused by a series of tornadoes that swept across six US states, killing more than 80 people.

On Broadway, the main street in this town of 10,000 people, old red brick buildings that were once a source of local pride were shattered by the storm.

The city courthouse lost a part of its roof, as well as its tower and clock.

Two nearby churches were badly damaged. One of them was missing a roof.

‘It’s devastating’ 

Mitchell Fowler’s restaurant was a family business for nearly four decades, until the tornado destroyed it.

The windows were blown out, the kitchen damaged, the roof torn off, and a section of the exterior wall fell.

On Friday, after a tornado warning from local authorities, Fowler closed the restaurant around 8 pm, told his employees to go home and set off for his own home some 8 miles (13 kilometers) outside town.

“Before I got home, it was gone,” Fowler said of the restaurant.

“This was my restaurant, a family business for 38 years, I raised my family here, all my kids work here. It’s devastating,” Fowler told AFP.

With power out in some parts of Mayfield, Fowler spent Saturday donating food that would have gone bad in his refrigerators.

“We are trying to help people in need,” he said.

‘God is still in control’ 

Fowler did get some good news.

One of his brothers-in-law was among the 100 employees trapped inside a local candle factory after its roof collapsed during the storm.

He was pulled from the rubble Saturday morning.

“He is alive, he’s in the hospital,” Fowler said. “We are safe, we are good and God is still in control.”

The candle factory was also a family business and work was in full swing there as the holidays approached.

Emergency responders combed through the wreckage on Saturday, removing bodies, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

Forty people have been rescued, but hopes were dimming for those still trapped.

“It’ll be a miracle if anybody else is found alive,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear told reporters earlier Saturday.

Fowler, 70, said he will not be rebuilding his business and instead will retire.

Next to his restaurant, dozens of cars lay upside down or turned to the side.

An old green and white car was miraculously left intact by the storm, but the roof of the garage that housed was gone.

The tornado wreaked havoc over a strip about a kilometer wide, crossing the city from west to east.

Torn electric poles littered the ground.

“It looks like a bomb has exploded in our community,” Mayfield resident Alex Goodman told AFP.

‘Never had anything like this’ 

“We knew it was coming, but we did not have anywhere to go,” said David Norseworthy, 69, a resident who works in construction.

“We never had anything like this here.”

His house, a few blocks from the city center, no longer had a roof or a porch, but the family was spared.

“We stood at the shelter for about seven minutes, and it was over. Come and gone that fast,” Norseworthy said.

“We knew it was coming, but we did not have anywhere to go. We never had anything like this here.”

Emergency responders cleared the roads for traffic, but heaps of rubble remained piled near the sidewalks, making driving slow and difficult.

Volunteers were distributing water, food, diapers and warm clothes to residents ahead of what meteorologists said would be a cold night.

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