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Marshall County sifts through wreckage left by Kentucky tornado

Ryland Barton

Linda Smock was watching the local news Friday night when she first heard about the tornado. She woke up her son and husband, who she says can sleep through anything.

“He’s on the C-PAP, I said, ‘You need to get up, put your clothes on, we need to get ready!’ So we did,” Smock said.

The Smocks ran into an interior hallway and threw blankets and beanbags on the floor for some padding, and then the storm hit. They heard the telltale sound of a train. Then the roof flew off. 

“A two by four did hit me on the head, but I guess I’ve got a hard head because I’m OK,” Smock said.

The house was torn apart around the family, who remained trapped in the hallway. Eventually first responders rescued them and guided them to safety.

The Smocks live in Sherwood Shores, a neighborhood situated on Kentucky Lake in Marshall County that was devastated by the tornado along with Cambridge Shores, to the North.

Recovery efforts continue in western Kentucky as first responders search for missing people and try to restore electricity and water service to thousands.

The storm turned structures into piles of splinters and scrap. It threw cars into houses like toys into a ceiling fan.

On Monday, Ashley Stubblefield was sifting through a bin of photos that survived the tornado, even though they were in her garage, which was obliterated.

“Childhood memories, childhood pictures right here, beauty pageants and different things,” Stubblefield said.

She says someone reached out to her on Facebook, letting her know one of her photos had ended up in Rhodelia, Ky., 175 miles away in Meade County.

She and her husband Rick were in Paducah when the storm hit. They came back to find their house in ruins.

“We came around the corner, we see the whole hill’s gone, and then you just don’t realize it’s gone, like it’s a concrete slab on our building and our house is just the foundation with the walkout basement,” Rick Stubblefield said.

As of Monday, state officials confirmed at least 74 Kentuckians died in the storm and more than a 100 were still missing. Thousands are still without power and water as first responders continue to clear debris and restore utilities.

Fred Hill’s house was completely destroyed by the tornado. One of the few possessions that survived was a flag from his late son, who worked in the foreign service.

“I’m salvaging the American flag of my son from Iraq, and he’s dead,” Hill said. “We used to fly it from a much higher flagpole, but it ended up here and I’m going to go retrieve it right now.”

Linda Smock says she’s not sure she’ll rebuild. Her son was diagnosed with brain cancer this year, and it takes a long time to get to the hospital.

“We’re in our 60s, and with my son the way he is, you know it’s going to be two, three years [to rebuild the area]. We might find something closer to Paducah because all his treatments are in Paducah, and his doctors and stuff,” Smock said.

It’s unclear how long it’s going to take for things to look like normal again here.

For now, people are happy they survived, and are mourning the ones they lost.

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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