My Saturday Trip to West Liberty
Ask any of my meteorology colleagues and you will hear the tale that I never want to see a tornado first hand. I am not a chaser, thrill seeker or admirer. In fact tornadoes are my least favorite weather to forecast. I have a phobia about storms that can hit and kill in an instant. Mind you I have no fear of hurricanes which give plenty of advanced notice when they will strike.
So it was with apprehension that I made the trip to West Liberty Kentucky today to get a “first” hand view of the severe damage caused by Friday night’s twister. Here’s a diary of my trip.
Photojournalist Ryan Bloomfield and I set out around 2pm for the expected hour and half drive. Since Ryan is one of our talented but young photographers I felt it prudent to brace him for what we would see. Having watched the home video of the tornado the night before and perused the e-pix and video of the damage, I knew we were going to see a devastated town.
As we drove on I-64 word came down that Randy Yohe was returning from West Liberty. Randy and his cameraman Jim Backus had the early shift in Morgan County while Ryan and I would cover the afternoon angle.
As we stopped in the Grayson Wendy’s for gas, the rest stop area was filled with people who had a keen interest in the storm’s impact down the road. You see Grayson is maybe an hour drive down route 7 to West Liberty. Friday night angry storm clouds had failed to muster much punch here in Carter County. Many folks wished us well as we headed south.
Arriving on the outskirts of town around 3:15, two poignant moments occurred right out of the box. First, the National Guard had closed off the main road into town to all but security and emergency personnel. This was my first visual that things were bad. A young man in fatigues told us we would need to take the long way in on the back roads.
No sooner had I thanked the young man for serving that my second jolt occurred. This one brought tears to my eyes. You see two vans were leaving West Liberty as we were entering. The vans had Montgomery County Coroner and Jessamine County Coroner written on them.
Our trip in the back way on Route 460 slowly unveiled the damage we would soon see. It was pedestrian to see large trees felled, some partially blocking the road. “Look at that” Ryan quipped at me as we turned the bend. Hanging in the trees all sorts of clothing and personal items had been strewn through the woods. Ryan said “imagine the force of the wind” when it can blow your clothes into the air like that.
But a look around where we were showed only a few homes. It was then that I realized that these clothes could have been from as far away as Frenchburg Ky down the road 20 miles away.
Arriving in town through another check point, we set up our makeshift live shot studio opposite the Advance Auto Parts store where the tornado had just grazed the store's sign and front wall/windows.
Our media liason was Kentucky State Policeman Lt. David Jude. With so many journalists in town, Lt. Jude made us all feel welcome while being firm on the rules we were to follow. We were led down Main Street with opportunities to shoot video and garner interviews with those willing to talk.
It was there that I met Melody Lykins. "We were sent home early before the storm hit. I normally would have worked until 6:30. The storm devastated the bank I work in just after 5:30. My business too is gone, Victoria's on Prestonsburg Street. I am just thankful to God we made it through safely," she told me.
Kent Nickel is the town optometrist. "My home was virtually unscathed, my business is in ruins". Kent and I then chatted about how important it would be for the town to make a comeback in time for the Fall Sorghum Festival. "This town depends on the Sorghum Festival as a sort of homecoming. Right now it is hard to think about it. I just hope there is something to come back to this fall".
As we left town around dusk we stopped by the West Liberty welcome sign that boasts about the town being founded in 1840. On the long trip back I nodded off wondering more than once about how in the 170+ years of this town's history no weather event of this magnitude had likely occured!
Back on Monday with a diary of my travels to Lawrence County Kentucky where on Sunday my travels took me to the Left Fork of Little Blaine. There the ruins were of a smaller scale, but equally devastating.