UPDATE 3/2/13 @ 10:45 p.m.
WEST LIBERTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- One full year after tornadoes ripped through parts of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, there was a much different sight in the sky -- lanterns.
People in the hardest-hit community, West Liberty, lit crepe paper lanterns and released them into the sky Saturday over Morgan County High School, in memory of those who died and the damage the tornadoes caused.
"I was standing on my front porch, and I keep seeing it coming over the mountain," Phyllis Keeton said. "I kept thinking this can't be happening, this can't be happening."
Keeton has lived in West Liberty her whole life. She said the tornado that flattened her town was an absolute devastation.
"You walk out after two minutes of it pounding your house and trees falling on it [...] and your neighbors' houses have been decimated, they've been destroyed," Keeton said, with tears in her eyes.
One year later, the community shows signs of renewal. A few businesses have returned to Main Street, and some of the town buildings are being rebuilt. Everywhere, there are signs that promise a return and a look at what's ahead.
But the recovery is a work in progress.
"It's still going to take time and probably won't be the way it used to be, but it'll still be an improvement whenever it's completed," Langley Franklin, another lifelong West Liberty resident, said.
But the community, with help from others, has banded together in the face of adversity. Franklin said that was evident Saturday and through the renewal happening across town.
"It feels good because if you feel like you lost everything in this, whenever you see it coming back, it's hopeful to see," Franklin said.
There are plans in the works to build a memorial park in West Liberty. The drawing of what the park will look like was unveiled Saturday at the memorial event.
“It's been a teary day,” business owner Sherri Granger said.
Just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the devastating tornado, Eddie and Sherri Granger's antique store, The Red Rooster, is finally back open.
“They're thrilled we're here, and there's been a lot of tears of joy,” Sherri Granger said. “A lot of tears of joy.”
March 2, 2012, is forever burned into the Grangers’ memory.
“The church that was on the corner, the steeple was sitting in the road,” Eddie Granger said. “You're walking around that, people are walking down the road -- just like in the movies. People are carrying their kids with blankets around them.”
But amid the trauma of that day, the Grangers knew they'd eventually get to this point.
“There was no question of rebuilding,” Eddie Granger said. “There was some question, to what extent we would rebuild. Maybe once or twice we thought about why are we rebuilding.”
Mayor Jim Rupe says other businesses are coming back, too.
“He's about ready to go back in business,” Rupe said. “Commercial Bank, hopefully in next two or three weeks they will be starting their new bank. The old courthouse, it's under reconstruction right now. The judicial center, it's under reconstruction.”
But the town still needs about 20 more businesses to get back to where it was before the tornado.
“You've got two or three vacant lots in here I'm not sure what's going to happen to them,” Rupe said. “Hopefully some young people like the Red Rooster will come in and see a business they think will go and fill these slots here.”
The Grangers have done more than rise from the ashes. They say their store is actually better than it was before -- with some old character uncovered during the rebuilding process.
“The building was built in 1923,” Eddie Granger said. “The bricks are original ... they were all covered up with sheetrock. The ceilings were all covered up with drop ceilings. So it was already here, it just was hollering, 'Get me out.' ”
The Grangers told WSAZ.com's Lauren Schmoll they hope others will choose to move to West Liberty -- just like they did five years ago.
“It's just a great community,” Sherri Granger said. “It's small, it's tight-knit. I know you hear about it all the time. Everybody always says that about their own community. But there's just a lot of heart here.”
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