During the devastating tornado outbreak of March 2nd, 2012, WSAZ was on the air for several hours straight, tracking the storms and anticipating what is coming next. At the same time, local citizens were taking cover as a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe was unfolding. One town hit especially hard was Salyersville, KY, where an EF-3 tornado came right through the center of town with winds around 160-mph. That was where we were later to learn that Mike Wilson and Charles "Doc" Harden were out in the elements trying to get as many people safe as possible.
Mike Wilson, Emergency Management Director for Magoffin County, was driving toward West Liberty, KY to aid in folks hit by a similarly huge tornado less than an hour earlier (and a previous tornado just days before that). While en-route, he got the message that another tornado had formed and was heading straight toward his home base of Salyersville. He had been in touch with Charles "Doc" Harden, a local Judge Executive, and had planned to meet up with him in Salyersville to warn and assist residents. Mike never made it back in time, but he reports seeing the tornado from a distance as it moved through town.
Meanwhile, Doc drove to the downtown area known as "restaurant row", and began shutting down businesses on order of the county due to the impending severe weather. Fortunately, as he puts it, the people in these establishments listened to him, and also heeded the warning. In a McDonalds, for example, people were rushed to safety away from windows and in the sturdy back areas. He also managed to make it to a local funeral home where a wake was going on. He took a handful of people in his truck and brought them to the basement of his home. As he left to make another trip, he found himself in the path of the tornado and road out the storm in his truck with a few other passengers.
Doc told us that his windshield got busted in, the top of his truck cab also buckled, and at times he felt the truck actually start to give a little bit to the wind.
When the winds died down and the storm pushed east, Magoffin County saw extensive damage, particularly to the very places that Doc had traveled to just minutes before. However, despite receiving one of the strongest tornadoes that hit Kentucky on a day when 22 people lost their lives, no lives were lost in Salyersville.
Following this storm, Mike Wilson worked to get a fresh warning system into their area so that daring ventures like this won't be as necessary in the future. Only recently the county was able to make the move to "Code Red", a warning system that gets distributed through mobile phones and smart phone devices.
For their efforts, Mike and Doc were recognized by the National Weather Service earlier this February, and we too here at WSAZ would like to recognize them as this week's Hometown Hero. In accepting this award, Mike and Doc would like to stress that they are doing so on behalf of the citizens of Magoffin County who "heeded the call, and did the right thing".