Gov. Beshear’s Message to Western Kentuckians One Year After Deadly Tornadoes

Last December, we saw historic, destructive tornadoes hit our friends and neighbors in Western Kentucky, taking the lives of 81 Kentuckians.

The stories of that night are tragic, but also heroic.

I met a farmer who pulled several of his neighbors from the basements of their collapsed homes. He told me one family called out, “Please don’t leave us!” And he didn’t.

That man, Nevin Price, is one of our heroes, along with all our first responders, including the Kentucky National Guard and Kentucky State Police.

Nothing I’d ever witnessed prepared me for the level of destruction I saw.

As we continue to mourn those we lost, my faith tells me that while we struggle to understand the whys of human suffering, we can see God’s presence in the response.

Scripture tells us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

We saw that in the actions of our people and in the outpouring of love and support from around the world.

The day after the tornadoes, we secured the fastest major disaster declaration ever approved by a president, supporting 16 counties. The region has now received more than $31.8 million in federal assistance and more than $59.8 million has been provided by the federal government to support local businesses and more than $42 million in funding from the West Kentucky State Aid for Funding, or SAFE funds. Private insurance groups have also paid out nearly $500 million to those who were insured.

The Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund received more than 150,000 donations totaling over $52.3 million. First, the money paid for each victim’s funeral. Funds were provided to insured and uninsured homeowners and renters, and local farmers who were hurt by the destruction of the Mayfield Grain Co.

The fund also pledged $16 million to build 300 homes in the area. To date, 40 families have received keys to a new home built in cooperation with Homes and Hope, Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center on Housing. Additional funding is providing assistance with unmet needs such as ongoing home repairs, as well as appliance and vehicle repair and replacement in coordination with local long-term recovery groups.

As I look back, and as I think about the Christmas season once again upon us, I remember First Lady Britainy Beshear’s toy drive that provided hundreds of thousands of gifts to make sure the kids who had already lost so much could have a good Christmastime.

I had some special moments passing out these toys. One was meeting Kara McKnight at Pennyrile State Resort Park. She had just lost her older brother, Logan, around Thanksgiving. And then she lost her house in the tornado.

My daughter, Lila, and I volunteered to be Kara’s personal shoppers, loading her up with toys. When her hands were full, I started loading Lila up with more, just for Kara. And that’s when she began to laugh. An amazing, special laugh. A laugh that reminded me that even in the darkness, there is wonderful, pure, joyful light.

Now, one year later, I see more hope for this region.

We are seeing positive economic momentum there. This year we have announced over 3,130 new jobs and more than $2 billion investment in the Pennyrile and Purchase areas, including the largest investment in Western Kentucky’s history, when Ascend Elements broke ground in Christian County on its biggest U.S. operation, creating as many as 400 full-time jobs across the region.

While our state’s bright future is on the horizon, we still have work to do to rebuild Western Kentucky; but we are strong.

These tornadoes destroyed so much, but we have proven that while we may get knocked down, no natural disaster can break us.

Western Kentucky, we are here for you today, tomorrow and every day it takes to bring back what was lost. And we will get through this together.

—Gov. Andy Beshear