Volunteers with the Franklin County chapter of the Red Cross are in Louisville awaiting assignment after an outbreak of tornadoes and severe weather ripped through northern and eastern Kentucky Friday.
Frankfort was left relatively unscathed, save for property damage from wind and golf-ball size hail in southern Franklin County. Emergency Management Director Deron Rambo said no one was injured after the storm hit around dusk.
But relief efforts are underway in Kenton, Morgan, Magoffin, Laurel, Johnson, Menifee and other counties after storms tore through the state.
Gov. Steve Beshear has called up more than 220 National Guard troops and declared a statewide emergency.
The Kentucky Department of Public Health has reported at least 19 dead in the state as well as more than 300 injured. More than 35 died nationwide.
“The scope and magnitude of devastation in some of our communities is unlike anything I have ever seen,” Beshear said in a statement.
“I’ve been in close contact with President (Barack) Obama since Thursday to ensure we will have the resources our families will need to recover from these storms.”
The Elkhorn Middle School chapter of the National Junior Honor Society is holding a drive for bottled water, cleaning supplies and other items in front of the middle school from 1-2 p.m. today. Groups will be leaving for Laurel County after 2 p.m.
Details slowly emerged Saturday morning as rescue workers began surveying the damage to areas hit Friday afternoon and evening.
Small communities across Kentucky, such as Piner, East Bernstadt, Salyersville and West Liberty, seemed to bear the brunt of the storm front, which spawned tornados from the Gulf Coast into Virginia and north to Indiana and Ohio.
Laurel County, 70 miles south of Lexington, where Carol Rhodes and her neighbors were picking up the pieces, had five deaths reported by mid-morning. The tiny town of West Liberty, 93 miles east of Lexington, was rocked as well with five deaths.
The rest of the Kentucky deaths were spread over four other counties.
The neighborhood where four generations of the Rhodes family hid from the storm in East Bernstadt was mostly wiped out. Several homes and vehicles were destroyed. Less than a mile away, the same storm killed Wilburn and Lizzie Pitman.
Rhodes said she and her husband, mother, daughter and grandchild hid from the storm in their basement.
“It was like, ‘Whoo!’ That was it,” Rhodes said. “Honey, I felt the wind and I said, ‘Oh, my God,’ and then (the house) was gone. I looked up and I could see the sky.”
No building was left untouched in West Liberty, a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachians. Two white police cruisers had been picked up and tossed into city hall and few structures were recognizable.
The Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled how he and four others huddled in a little cubby hole in the basement as the church collapsed in the storm.
The pastor and his wife were in the parsonage next door when they saw on TV that the storm was coming. They ran into the church and headed for the basement with two congregants who had been cleaning the church and a neighbor who sought refuge there.
The last one down was Jett’s wife, Jeanene.
“I just heard this terrific noise,” she said. “The windows were blowing out as I came down the stairs.”
After the storm, they were able to get out through a basement door, but the century-old church lay in ruins. They escaped with only bumps and bruises.
“We’re thankful to God,” he said. “It was a miracle that the five of us survived.”
David Ison had just closed up at the bank branch he manages in West Liberty when the twister hit around 6 p.m. He was walking to his car in the parking lot when he saw the storm approaching. He and nine other employees crowded into the bank vault.
“We stood in the parking lot and watched it coming. By the time it hit, it was like a whiteout,” he said.
Beshear, Adjutant Gen. Ed Tonini, Sen. Damon Thayer, Sen. Robert Stivers and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson toured the hardest-hit areas of the state Saturday.