UPDATE: One Year After Tornado, Wayne County Community Continues to Rebuild

By: Olivia Fecteau; Brooks Jarosz, Carrie Cline, Bill Murray, Sarah Sager Email
By: Olivia Fecteau; Brooks Jarosz, Carrie Cline, Bill Murray, Sarah Sager Email

UPDATE 3/3/13 @ 7:30 p.m.
DUNLOW, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's been one full year since tornadoes ripped through four states, including West Virginia. Families in Wayne County are still trying to return to normal after their homes were ravaged by the storm.

Becky Porter, whose home was destroyed, showed WSAZ.com a newspaper clipping from last March, with a photo of her home after the tornado left its mark.

"This picture was taken probably the day after the storm which would've been about March 3rd, a year today," Porter said.

Her family now lives in a brand new, eight-bedroom house. But for six months after the storm, Porter and her husband lived in a 30-foot camper -- along with their seven children.

"It's pretty spacious," Porter said of the camper. "But, you know, when you're cooped up for six months with seven kids, [it's] tight."

They're grateful for the new home. When the tornado destroyed their old home, Porter couldn't believe it.

"I cried," she said. "Just to know that you've worked so hard all your life and your house was going to be paid for the next year, it was just heartbreaking."

Their new home is one sign of recovery, in a community that worked together in the weeks following the disaster.

"If we have a disaster, we're here," Bill Likens, outreach director at Cabwaylingo Presbyterian Chapel, said. "And people know that."

At that church, volunteers worked together after the storm to help their neighbors who were without power and whose homes had been destroyed. The church served about 800 hot meals and collected supplies from agencies like FEMA.

"Basically, we were just a central hub," Likens said. "Everybody could bring in their donations to us [and] call us and ask us what was needed in the area. People would come in on a daily basis and pick up, or we would deliver to them."

The church also worked directly with FEMA to help come up with money to fix some of the homes damaged by the tornado. They raised money to cover the repairs that FEMA couldn't handle.

Porter said that assistance from the community, friends and family helped her family get back to some normalcy, even though they have a long way to go.

"There's just a lot to still clean up," Porter said. "We just take it day by day."

UPDATE 4/2/12 @ 5:40 p.m.
KIAHSVILLE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's been one month since a deadly tornado outbreak ripped across parts of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The days and weeks following have been a rebuilding effort for many towns, including Kiahsville.

In the small town, downed trees can be seen almost everywhere you turn. It’s a vivid reminder, one month later, of the tornado that changed lives.

"A lot of people lost everything. I never want to live through something like that again," Loretta Kirk, who works in Kiahsville, said.

Kirk has seen her town hit rock bottom.

"It's a little emotional. That night I was at a wake. My daughter was home. You know, we had seen the warnings, but we didn't take it seriously that a tornado would come through our community," Kirk said.

However, things are looking up for the small community. Debris has been moved to the side of the road instead of on it.

Out at the campgrounds at East Lynn Lake, crews are working double time to restore power and clear timber before camping season begins. But with more than 3,000 acres impacted, officials aren't sure the grounds can be repaired fast enough.

Checks from FEMA are also starting to roll in. Brady Coburn received his on Friday.

"It'll take care of the expenses for the house, but it won't begin to take care of the damage on the roof of the garage and on the buildings that I’ve got," Coburn said.

“It's been tough. But our community will never be the same because of the destruction. You never can. You can't get back what you've lost," Kirk said.

A tornado that spent only minutes in this town has left a lifetime of destruction.

FEMA assistance crews will be at the Wayne Health Department from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. People from Kiahsville or East Lynn can take a shuttle to the health department. The shuttles run from the post office several times a day.

FEMA crews are expected to be in Wayne County throughout the rest of this week.

UPDATE 3/9/12 @ 8:30 p.m.
DUNLOW, W.Va.(WSAZ) -- It's not every day you see young people excited to be in school on a perfect spring-like day. Welcome to Dunlow Elementary.

More than 100 students were back in the classroom Friday after devastating tornado-spawning storms ripped through the region on Friday, March 2.

"I'm glad the kids are back," says teacher Bethany Ward. "I know they'll have two meals a day. There's electricity here and running water."

Ward has been volunteering on her days off since the tornado. She says one family was stranded, having no food for four days.

"They were so isolated," she says. "It made getting supplies next to impossible."

Kolby Porter is a fourth-grader. He has six brother and sisters who lost their home on Friday night.

"We were all in the bathroom praying and singing 'Jesus Loves Me' when the storm passed over," Kolby says. "The stuff isn't really important; it's your family."

UPDATE 3/7/12 @ 8:45 p.m.
DUNLOW, W.Va.(WSAZ) -- Driving through Dunlow in southern Wayne County looks like a war zone. It has nothing to do with the camouflaged vehicles and men and women in uniform. Rather, it's the familiar landscape that looks like it's been ripped to shreds.

"You hear all the time that grown men don't cry," Barren Porter says. "Well, that's a lie."

Porter was home with his family when the storm barreled through his community.

"I just jumped on my family huddled near the bathroom," Porter says. "If it was going to take one of us, it was going to take all of us."

On Thursday, the mission statement at the Cabwaylingo Presbyterian Chapel is changing. They've been serving hot meals to more than 400 people every day since Saturday. Now the focus is shifting from food to supplies.

Volunteers will be on hand to offer cleaning supplies and dumpsters to people who need help in cleanup.

Dunlow Elementary School has been shut down since the storm.
The principal tells WSAZ.com that 101 students go to school there. The school is opening Thursday for the first time since the storm hit last Friday.

UPDATE 3/6/11 @ 8:05 p.m.
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Families in remote pockets of Wayne County say they will not soon forget what it was like to live in the path of a killer tornado.

One family tells WSAZ.com it's as if a bomb went off in their front yard.

"It's unreal; I would have never dreamed," Gabriel Kelly said. "I would have never dreamed something like that could do that kind of destruction."

Lucky to be alive, the Kellys are still trying to understand how they were spared. Around their Wayne County home, near East Lynn Lake, resembles a war zone -- homes destroyed, cars flipped and trees ripped out.

"There was not just hearing it. You felt it; you tasted it," Sarah Kelly said. "I mean, it was so overwhelming you didn't think. Anything to hold on and if I'm going to die, I hope it happens quickly."

Kelly was rushing over the mountainside with her brother when the storm hit. She described grasping on to trees and holding on for dear life. Her husband and two kids were inside their cabin.

Gabriel Kelly says they took shelter underneath a table at the bottom of the stairs and put a mattress over their heads. Kelly describes seeing the entire roof rip off and blow overtop of them -- an image he still has ingrained in his mind.

"I thought the whole entire house was going to be on top of us," Kelly said. "I thought this was the end."

Now as storm survivors, the shock has turned into despair. Everything is gone but the Kellys are thankful to be alive.

"Somebody was protecting us, somebody," Gabriel Kelly said. "They had to of."

The National Guard came in and helped many of those living in Wayne County.

The Kellys say FEMA is supposed to be there Tuesday night to help them clean up.

UPDATE 3/5/12 @ 8:20 p.m.
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Bent, but not broken -- that might be one way to sum up the situation for a lot of folks in parts of Wayne County cleaning up after a tornado.

Where hillsides are flattened, homes are still standing -- but hope has been blown away.

WSAZ.com's Carrie Cline visited southern Wayne County near Dunlow where several members of an extended family experienced the same storm from different locations.

On one ridge top, one family returned after the tornado to find their home smashed to pieces. Less than a quarter mile away, on another ridge top, her parents rode out the same tornado and lived to tell about it. Both are still in shock, neither sure what they're going to do next.

“When you hear that train, it's on top of you. It's too late,” Tammy Porter said.

Porter is still shell-shocked over the near-death experience she survived.

“My husband grabbed me and threw me down on the floor, and the windows started busting out," she said. "I felt the whole house lift up. I felt the walls move. It was a terrifying sight, but I survived.”

To look at Porter's home, you'd think it survived the tornado, too. But, in this case, looks can be deceiving.

“It tore the tin off here and there," she said. "They got up there Saturday and patched it all together,” she said.

By patched, Porter means placed a whole new temporary roof on to replace the one that was ripped off.

“You still have a house standing,” Cline said.

“Barely! But, it's leaning that way. I'm afraid if we get another strong wind or snow, it's going to collapse,” Porter said.

Sally Bartram, Porter's daughter, endured similar damage at her nearby home.

"That's my daughter's room, my living room ... splattered against the hillside," Bartram said.

After the same tornado rattled Porter's house, it hopped over to the next ridge and shattered her daughter Bartram's home. It pushed it off its foundation 20 feet into and all over the hillside.

“We'd probably got killed if we'd been home,” Bartram said.

But, their puppies and dogs were home and survived -- amazing when you look at the path the storm cut.

“You used to couldn't see from here to my grandmother's house, now you can see it as plain as day,” Bartram said.

The tree damage is so bad that the West Virginia National Guard is teaming up with the state Department of Highways to remove debris from the road and clear property like Bartram's so she can salvage what's left.

"It's hard to see what you've worked for gone," Bartram said.

The snow added insult to injury. While Bartram and her family are staying with others, Porter and her husband are toughing it out in the little blue house that's now very drafty -- with the boarded up windows and temporary roof.

She cares for three young grandchildren who live with her. But, she said the house is so cold and dangerous, she's placed them with other family until she can figure out what else to do about her living conditions.

Power is still out to numerous customers throughout Wayne County.

UPDATE 3/5/12 @ 8 p.m.
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The snow covering Kiahsville, W.Va., Monday was kind of like a white blanket that was not only comforting. It also covered the destruction left behind from Friday’s severe weather.

Elizabeth Johnson spent the day washing windows.

“I’m just trying to see out, a little, from all the debris,” Johnson said. “There’s a sense of joy; at least we’re alive.”

On Monday, power crews and the National Guard were clearing the way of downed poles and trees along W.Va. 37.

Fred Elkins was glad to have the power back. On Friday, the house went dark, seconds before the storm passed overhead.

With the house shaking, he threw his stepson, Brayden, under the bed, having to shout instructions 6 inches from his face. The noise was that deafening.

“We were screaming” Elkins said. “I was screaming! He said he couldn’t hear me. He was telling me he was praying.”

Elkins stares danger in the face everyday as an coal mine electrician.

“I just don’t think about the danger very much.” Elkins says. “But when your family’s in danger, it’s a different story. I have to admit, I was afraid and grateful we’re all safe."

WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Cove Gap area, near East Lynn, was ravaged by tornado strength winds Friday night. Trees and power lines were knocked down, roads were blocked and homes were destroyed.

Sharon Adkins and her twin sister Sheila spent Friday evening at their mother's funeral. They came home to what Sharon described as a war zone -- their mother's house, the hardest hit in town.

Sharon told WSAZ.com her mother's funeral saved her life.

"It's heart wrenching. Lose my mom and then lose her home, there are no words. It's the worst thing I've ever been through," Sharon said.

Tornado like winds, so strong in Cove Gap, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin flew in with the West Virginia National Guard to make house calls.

"To see the devastation that has happened here in Wayne County is just unbelievable," Gov. Tomblin said. "Our job now is to get peoples lives back together as quickly as possible."

True to form, small town West Virginia -- neighbors helping neighbors -- stepped up. Carrie Cox loaded her trunk full of sandwiches, chips and drinks and hit the road.

"The most I could do is go up and down the road and pass out food to the workers," Cox said.

The National Guard and the W.Va. Forestry Department have been helping residents with clean up and road crews have been out since Friday night with chainsaws, clearing roads.

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