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Kentuckians displaced by tornadoes find shelter at state parks

Ryland Barton

Kentucky has opened up its state resort parks to house people displaced by catastrophic tornadoes over the weekend.

The tornado system extended more than 200 miles from Arkansas into Kentucky, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and taking the lives of at least 50 people in the state, according to officials.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced thatKentucky’s 17 state parks that have lodges and hotel-type rooms would welcome people who have lost their homes

Scott Ratzlaff, park manager at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, said his facility still has space, but rooms are filling up.

“They’re looking for a warm place to stay and a warm shower, which everybody wants. We can provide, luckily enough, at this point,” Ratzlaff said.

Kentucky Dam Village is located in Marshall County, which was hit hard by the tornado late on Friday night.

But the state park itself was largely spared. As one of the few places with power and water in the county, it’s drawn people from across the region looking for a place to stay.

Ratzlaff said state parks workers and guests have experienced historic loss.

“Everybody’s dealing with it at this point. Does anybody want to do this? No, I don’t think any person’s enjoying this. But it’s just where it’s at, and it’s another one of those things we just have to work through,” Ratzlaff said.

The Red Cross has opened eight shelters across western and south central Kentucky and Beshear said state armories will also house people displaced by the storm.

First responders are still assessing damage and clearing debris across the region. The full extent of the tornados’ destruction won’t be realized for days or longer.

In Gilbertsville, search and rescue teams were still sifting through flattened houses looking for missing people and clearing debris on Sunday.

Jerrica Cline, a Gilbertsville resident whose house was missed by the tornado, said she wanted to do something to help other people.

“There’s really no way to deal with it, you just really have to pick up what you can, salvage what you can, and try to move on and figure out your next steps. It’s heartbreaking more than anything,” Cline said.

“You’re helpless, in a way, and you just want to do anything you can to help.”

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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