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‘Lost and so confused.’ Survivors of tornado in Bowling Green face trauma amid recovery

Anthony Hickey Sr. prays with Laura Cardwell, center, and Brittani Kemp, left, on Sunday while taking a break from cleaning out his apartment from debris after the tornado swept through Friday night in Bowling Green, Ky. (Silas Walker | swalker@herald-leader.com)
Anthony Hickey Sr. prays with Laura Cardwell, center, and Brittani Kemp, left, on Sunday while taking a break from cleaning out his apartment from debris after the tornado swept through Friday night in Bowling Green, Ky. (Silas Walker | swalker@herald-leader.com)

First there was the fury of the 150-mile per hour winds that damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in Bowling Green and killed 12 people.

Now comes the frustration of recovery.

Finding a place to stay. Digging through the soggy wreckage to salvage a few clothes and personal items. Checking on filing insurance claims. Wondering what assistance will be available. Getting replacement driver's licenses and credit cards.

That was the exhausting reality for a lot of people in Bowling Green Sunday as the city dug out from a deadly tornado that hit about 1 a.m. Central time on Saturday.

Shalea Parke said she lost everything.

"It's heartbreaking," she said as she passed time at a Red Cross shelter at a high school and middle school complex. "It feels like you got to start all over again."

Deborah Gibson, 68, whose home was destroyed, said it was difficult to even figure out where to start when you don't even have a toothbrush.

She and her son, Tony Trester, 44, who lived with her, spent the rest of the night after the storm in a car outside their blasted apartment, then came to the shelter Sunday to get some food and figure out their next steps.

"It's hard when your whole life gets taken away in a few minutes," Trester said.

Gibson said she had been through hurricanes before moving to Bowling Green, but nothing like the ferocity of the tornado.

"For the first time, I'm breaking down," she said. "We're lost and so confused."

Anthony Hickey Sr., was leaning on a pickup truck Sunday afternoon as people carried debris from his apartment to pile by the curb for pickup.

After three women stopped to pray with him, holding hands in a small circle, Hickey said he would stay at a hotel Sunday night, but hadn't figured out much past that.

"You're in a state of shock," he said. "I need a home and don't have one. It's a rude awakening to a new life."

But Hickey, a coach and truant officer at Warren Central High School, said God brought him through the storm and would provide going forward.

Jennifer Locke said she rode out the storm in a bathroom with her dog, a small Shih Tzu terrier named Kash. The wall of her apartment blew in against the bathroom, but she was able to get out.

She heard babies crying in the dark nearby and people yelling for help.

"It was the most awful thing," she said.

Locke pulled a piece of drywall over her and Kash for some shelter from the rain, and waited for firefighters to get her out.

Sunday, she and her daughter, Amber Tucker, who lived with her, were digging through the mess to salvage what they could. Someone found Locke's glasses, and Tucker had found half a $100 bill and was wondering where in the mess the other half might be.

Locke said someone in Edmonson County, perhaps 20 or 30 miles away, had found a photo of her and her daughter and posted it on Facebook, where friends saw it and told Locke about it.

Jacob Perdue, 27, said he hunkered over his wife, Deenalee, and their 2-year-old daughter, Kora, in a bathroom as the tornado ripped the roof off their apartment. Their car in front of the apartment ended up about 150 feet away on its top.

It is traumatic to lose a comfortable existence in seconds, he said.

"When it gets ripped away, it's demoralizing," Perdue said.

Even with the losses, Perdue said he felt blessed. He and his family weren't hurt, and he has family to stay with and a job that won't be affected by the storm, unlike some people in town.

Emergency management officials said the tornado destroyed or damaged 500 homes and 100 businesses, including many on the 31W bypass, a main commercial area in town, and several factories.

It's going to take awhile to shake the memories of the storm.

"A gust of wind blows and I'm freaking out now," Perdue said.

American Red Cross officials stressed that they can assist people with food and shelter needs after the storm. The Red Cross shelter in Bowling Green moved Sunday to the Jennings Creek Elementary School.

Officials said 76 people stayed in the shelter Saturday night. There was a potential more would come in Sunday night with colder temperatures forecast, said Ciara West, with the South Central Kentucky chapter of the Red Cross.

Local officials said there had been a tide of donations for storms victims, including clothes, food, water, blankets and hygiene items.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Gina Powell, the youth service coordinator for the South Warren high and middle schools.

Nichole Willis stopped at the high school Sunday morning to donate about $200 worth of restaurant gift cards that people gave her after her husband, Jason, died in February 2020, but that she hadn't yet been able to use.

She said she had seen a comment on Facebook that storm victims would be able to get clothes and other items quickly, but that some wouldnt have places to cook for awhile or money to eat out, so she thought the cards could fill a need.

"Kind of like, spread the goodness that was given to me," Willis said.

Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby said the death toll from the storm remained at 12 on Sunday. That was 11 people from Bowling Green, many of them from the Creekwood neighborhood, and one in the county.

Police and firefighters were still searching through rubble and wrecked houses and apartments to make sure there were no more bodies to recover or injured people to rescue.

Kirby said he hoped the fatality count wouldn't grow.

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