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Mayfield marks first anniversary of deadly, historic tornado

Derek Operle

Many western and central Kentucky residents marked a solemn occasion Saturday, the first anniversary of last December’s deadly and historic tornado outbreak.

The catastrophic storm system – which came to western Kentucky after hitting parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois – swept across 11 counties late on Dec. 10, 2021, causing an estimated $3.5 billion dollars in damage and killing 81 Kentuckians. It produced one of the ten longest tornado tracks in recorded U.S. history, one that stayed on the ground for more than three hours and traveled 165 miles.

One of those communities was the far western Kentucky city of Mayfield. An EF-4 tornado careened through the Graves County seat, badly damaging the community’s historic downtown, damaging or destroying thousands of homes and bringing down the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, trapping more than 90 people inside.

Now, one year later, the debris is mostly cleared, but the downtown area remains eerily empty. Where the county courthouse once stood, there now sits a temporary memorial to the 24 Graves County residents who lost their lives in the disaster.

With recovery efforts still underway, the community wanted to honor the lives lost to the storm and recognize the progress made so far.

Gov. Andy Beshear spoke during a ceremony Saturday at Graves County High School where hundreds turned out to hear local officials read the names of the 24 county residents who died in the disaster. He offered words of encouragement to communities across the storm’s path.

“There's still a lot of work to be done even one year after all this was made possible because of love. And I don't think we say we love each other enough. I love you. I care about you. And we are not going anywhere,” the governor said. “I know this rebuilding effort is going to continue to take time and we're going to continue to show up to do what we can to repair lives and to repair buildings but also to restore hope.”

Beshear also announced that the remaining $10 million dollars in the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund – through which more than 150,000 donors gave more than $52 million dollars towards recovery efforts in the months after the storm – would be split among 10,000 impacted families still in need.

Northside Baptist Church pastor Al Chandler also spoke during Saturday’s proceedings, praising the outpouring of support from friends and neighbors close to home and the thousands of volunteers and donors who are still helping clean up and rebuild the Graves County community.

“It’s overwhelming to think about the loss, it’s overwhelming to think about moving forward, how to move forward, it’s overwhelming to think about those around you that still have even greater needs than you. It’s so overwhelming that there’s some people you cannot personally help,” the pastor said. “[But] hope is possible for every single person, especially one that’s struggling through loss.

“We have experienced some of the greatest loss ever … but we have experienced a matchless love here in our Mayfield community.”

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