Before this weekend, most people in Maine had likely never heard of Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 in western Kentucky. After the community was hit Friday night by what may have been the most powerful tornado recorded in the United States, Mayfield suddenly was in our thoughts and prayers. So, too, are the many other midwestern and southern towns hit by the destructive tornadoes that likely left 100 or more dead.
“Y’all pray for Mayfield,” became a weekend rallying cry across the country. Those are the words Johnny Shreve posted on Facebook after the tornado had passed. He lay on his kitchen floor for more than an hour in his badly damaged apartment building, trying to dig himself out and shouting for his neighbors and his dog, Buddy, who later emerged in the living room.
“It blew my mind when the sun came up,” Shrev told the Associated Press, when he and others returned over the weekend to salvage what they could from demolished buildings. “I don’t see how this town can recover. I hope we can, but we need a miracle.”
Scientists have warned that unusually warm air in December supercharged the tornadoes, making them bigger and more powerful. Others have called for changes to emergency warning systems and policies that kept workers inside buildings that were destroyed by the tornadoes.
Certainly, these issues warrant further consideration, but for now, our attention is on the survivors and those who lost their lives in the horrifying storms, along with their family members. Several funds have been set up to help victims of the storms and their families.
Former Bangor Daily News reporter Alex Acquisto, who now works for the Herald Leader in Lexington, Kentucky, chronicled a couple’s harrowing search for a loved one.
Chris Chism and his fiancee Paige Tingle drove five hours to Mayfield to search for Chism’s mother, Jill, who had taken shelter Friday night in the bathroom of the candle factory where she worked the overnight shift. They were among the first to arrive at the factory, which was destroyed by a massive tornado. They arrived before it was cordoned off and visitors kept away. They hoped to join the search.
“She texted me that she was scared, and I said, ‘thank goodness,” Chism told Acquisto. “I told you it’s rough,” she texted back. Chism asked her to let him know how she fared. “I never got a response,” he said.
“In the hour that followed after that text exchange, a tornado rampaged through Graves County, leaving in its wake an expanse of broken and exploded buildings, uprooted and gnarled trees, and downed power lines and highway light poles, some snapped like toothpicks,” Acquisto wrote. “The same storm cell continued its path of destruction for at least 150 more miles through the commonwealth. What’s now known as the ‘quad-state tornado,’ traveled a total of 230 miles across four states, leaving the some of the worst wreckage in Mayfield.
At the candle factory on Saturday morning, Chism and Tingle watched as bodies were loaded into a refrigerated truck. They then went to a church where family members were advised to wait. By Saturday night, Jill still had not been found.
Crews worked all night sifting through the wreckage of Mayfield Consumer Products.
Chism received a phone call on Sunday morning that his mother’s body was found.
Scenes like this were played out across the devastated region as tornados destroyed homes, businesses and health care facilities in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee. At least six people were killed at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, that was hit by a tornado.
For these communities, and the people who live and work in them, our thoughts are of strength, comfort and healing at this heartbreaking time.