MAYFIELD, Kentucky (WATE) – Grief and shock are settling in for residents of Mayfield, Kentucky. On Friday, Dec. 10, a tornado that formed in Arkansas cut a 200-mile path into four states, rearranging lives and landscape while killing at least 74 Kentuckians. The storm struck the town of 10,000 people under the cover of darkness.
“I was in the hallway with my three little dogs praying the Lord’s Prayer over and over and over again,” said Carrie Arp, an animal shelter employee who was born and raised in Mayfield. “I never heard the train sound. I did hear stuff hit my roof, then it was complete silence.”
Arp said Monday that one of the victims was a corrections officer who was overseeing inmates working at a candle factory that collapsed. She said Officer Robert Daniel was taking care of inmates when the tornado hit.
“He made sure his guys and everybody around was in a safe place, those inmates were sent to the hospital with broken legs and stuff, but not one of those inmates were killed,” Arp said. “Robert lost his life. Robert was a good man and he believed in doing the best for everybody.”
Arp’s home is less than two miles from what many consider the worst area of damage in the town of 10,000 residents, but photos and video taken in Mayfield seem to say everywhere is worse. The storm that spawned the twister was part of a weather system that cut through towns and homes not only in Kentucky, but Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois. Experts were still working Monday to determine the size of the tornado, or if there was more than one.
One local expert found herself on the other side of the storm Friday night. Jennifer Rukavina Bidwell is a former broadcast meteorologist who owns a business in Mayfield.
“I can honestly say of the 15 years I spent covering storms in this region, this is by far way and above anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bidwell said. The building that housed Jeannette’s Mayfield Flower Company is damaged beyond repair.
“This is very emotional for residents here because they’ve taken a lot of pride, time, effort and money to preserve this historic district,” Bidwell said, adding that she expects to hear the tornado rated around an EF-4. That would mean finding evidence of violent wind at 207-260 miles per hour on the Fujita Scale.
That wind changed the landscape forever, she said. It will take a long time to rebuild what was lost. The town’s roots that stretch back 200 years to around 1818. It became the county seat of Graves County in 1821.
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Robert Nanney, chair of UT Martin’s Department of Communications and the Minister of Music at Desden First Baptist Church, noted the damage to historic structures in Mayfield, including a historic hotel. He lives just south of town.
“It’s so devastating. It’s so emotional. You can see the videos, you can hear about it, but when you there it it just so overwhelming,” Nanney said. “You have this mixture of thankfulness that we were spared, but just that deep-to-the-bone feeling of sadness that overwhelms you for all of those who lost property and buildings and houses, and for businesses that won’t come back, or won’t come back for a long time.”
Bidwell and Nanny each agreed that although the path forward is littered with debris, the town will move forward and rebuild together. Arp, keeper of lost pets, also agreed.
“Right now everyone in Mayfield is traumatized,” Arp said, noting that residents who had lost everything were bringing plates filled with rice, beans and chicken to the shelter for employees. “But we’re a small town and we stick together.”