Tornado Batters Mayfield, Ky., but One Resident Says, ‘We’ll Be OK’

The people of Mayfield, a town of 10,000, surveyed the extensive tornado damage. Despite the devastation, one resident said, ‘We’ll be OK.’,

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‘Our church is totally gone’: Tornado changes the landscape of a Kentucky town.

Emmanuel Baptist Church lost its roof when a tornado hit Mayfield, Ky., Friday night.Credit…Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Dec. 11, 2021, 11:17 a.m. ET

MAYFIELD, Ky. — The grid of narrow streets in the heart of Mayfield, Ky., had become a perilous maze of downed utility lines, dangling tree limbs and scattered debris. Yet residents were out on Saturday morning, struggling to maneuver around it all, anguished by the aftermath of the tornado that had shredded their community.

As the sun rose in Mayfield, a town of 10,000 people in the western corner of Kentucky, residents could see for the first time the destruction they had heard the night before as the storm descended in the darkness with its howling winds and the crunching and groaning of homes and businesses being torn apart.

Some of the largest buildings in town had been leveled or were close to it. Mayfield First United Methodist Church, a cavernous sanctuary with a stone facade, had almost entirely collapsed. Other buildings had been reduced to piles of red bricks.

The rolling pastures and quiet woods that surround Mayfield had been left muddy and with a dusting of leaves but were otherwise intact. But on the two-line highways snaking into town, the tornado’s wrath announced itself with the vistas of homes that had their brick exteriors shaved off, churches with roofs peeled away and seemingly sturdy trees that had been snapped at their trunks like twigs.

D.J. Swant hurried into her cellar at around 9 p.m. on Friday. The local authorities had stressed just how bad the storm could be.

“We took them at their word, and thank God we did,” she said.

Her bed had been showered with limbs and glass from broken windows. The balcony was gone. Chimneys crumbled. A towering column had been shifted out of place.

Ms. Swant, a retired health-care administrator from the Milwaukee area, moved with her husband to Mayfield six years ago, fleeing the bitter cold of Wisconsin but more than anything lured by the grand old house, built in 1890. It had the balcony, seven fire places and some 6,000 square feet. Her neighbors called it Dr. Jackson’s house, named after a longtime resident.

After they moved in, people in the town stopped by and talked to her and her husband. They wanted to see the improvements the Swants had made to the house and thank them for putting in the effort to bring back an historic house that had sat empty for years.

On Saturday, neighbors were pulling up yet again, this time to see how she was doing.

“Our church is totally gone,” one neighbor who pulled up in a truck told Ms. Swant. “Nothing was salvageable except for the communion table.”

“That’s one of the reasons I love this place,” Ms. Swant said after the truck pulled away. “We’ll be OK,” she added. “We’ll be OK. It’ll take a while. But we’ll be OK.”

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