Lawrence Kentucky Tornado Visit
On Saturday I reported live and then blogged about the devastating tornado damage I saw in West Liberty Kentucky. It was truly gut wrenching to see an entire town’s business district in shambles and its residents in shock. From brick walls felled, to metal signs bent like pretzels and from shattered windows to a debris filled Main Street, residents like Kent Nickel who lost his optometry business wondered out loud. “It is hard to think ahead and what there will be for Morgan Countians to come back to this fall with the town’s annual Sorghum Festival. It’s is such a big event. I hope we can rebuild”.
On Sunday, I made the trip to the Left Fork of Little Blaine for another surreal stop into the realm of tornadoes. You see after the Force 3 twister had torn through Menifee and Morgan Counties (the tornado had formed near Frenchburg in Menifee and then pulverized West Liberty) it had its sights set on Lawrence County.
Since there are no records of tornadoes in Lawrence County dating back to 1950, this was truly a once in a lifetime event.
Here’s my account.
A journalistic colleague of mine Roberta Blevins did a great job in tactfully reporting on the death and destruction she saw after the Friday night twister. I spoke to Roberta Sunday afternoon before I left for Lawrence County. Here’s a link to her paper.
As photographer Jared Roach and I drove south along the Country Music Highway, we dodged a few passing snow showers. No bigee until we arrived in Louisa where the hills were coated in snow. The white landscape added a touch of serenity to what we would soon see.
As we continued south, a look across the Big Sandy River into the hills of Wayne County unveiled an awesome sight. Stretching across the hilltops, trees had been felled by the hundreds. Mind you we were a mile or so away but you could see the twisted nature of the downed trees. Had this been a straight line wind storm then the trees would have aligned in one direction. But instead the trees lay on the ground in a circular path. No question a tornado had laid claim to the tree line.
Just a few miles south of Louisa we hit county road 1760. Driving up the hollow the signs that a whirlwind had ransacked this quiet hollow were everywhere. A host of utility crews had set up shop along the road. Power lines were down and trees that had been tossed around like footballs lay strung out in the open meadow.
As we came to where the EF3 tornado had hit (with peak winds near 150 mph), our eyes immediately latched onto a pile of rubble strewn along the hillside. A house lot was empty some 25 yards from the pile. The Chaffin house had literally been lifted off its foundation and slammed head-first into the hillside. There were 4 people inside the home who had little warning of the twister’s approach. Two people, grand mother and grand daughter, died while miraculously two survived. Ann Chaffin and Samantha Wood had lost their lives.
A mere 50 yards from the Chaffin’s, Theo Vanguard was tending to his brother’s splintered home. Randy Vanguard had watched the Chaffin house go airborne and yelled for his wife and sons to get to the bedroom. They made it in the nick of time, but Randy was not so lucky. “Randy was driven into the floor of the living room and sustained a broken leg”, Theo told me. As I walked through the rubble of the Vanguard home I was dumbfounded how anyone could survive amidst such destruction.
Then it was time to leave for home base so we could relate the story of the first tornado in Lawrence County in more than 60 years.
In time the National Weather Service would document this tornado with a path length of close to 86 miles with a lifespan of nearly two hours.