Two years ago we had no clue. We didn't know tornadoes could hit in the mountains
We didn't know the feel of fear mixed with the pressure in our chests of the tornado going overhead while we stood in the basement, clinging to our families, neighbors and pets. Two years ago, natural disasters were never local and we could not imagine what it would look like if a bomb hit town. We had never seen the Xs scribbled in orange spray paint on the side of buildings, on driveways and, in some cases, on a piece of tin sticking out the ground where a house once stood, showing that house had been searched. Two years ago we did not know how reliant we really are on our meteorologists. We really didn't know a whole lot about how much stuff would have to be piled up, sorted, bulldozed, hauled off, or burned to make way for a livable and usable space. FEMA was an agency talked about on the news, but we didn't know the agents by name. We had never picked up our kid's tennis shoes out of nothing but rubble. We had never stood in lines for free food, clothing, necessities and a shower. We had never hit redial on the phone so many times, just trying to reach our parents, siblings, children and friends, hoping and praying they were fine and that they didn't try to get out in the bumper-to-bumper traffic to find you. We didn't know what it would feel like for a tornado to hit our town, but we know now. Two years ago this Saturday, an EF3 tornado ripped through Salyersville on Friday, March 2, 2012, originally starting in Wolfe County , flattening homes and toppling buildings on Cow Creek, Sugar Camp, Route 30, 3337, 114 (Mt. Parkway) and 460 before continuing its 49-mile journey through Johnson, Martin and ending in West Virginia. Roughly 80 large and small Magoffin businesses were wiped out, and over 300 homes hit. Three schools sustained damage, with the high school repaired, Salyersville Grade School now repaired, and the middle school completely unusable. Magoffin sustained an estimated $47 million in damages, but still, we rebuild. All but a handful of businesses on the Mountain Parkway have at least started the rebuilding phase. The schools have adapted, with the high school absorbing the middle school students, while Salyersville Grade School returned back home last August.
More than that, the zombie "I don't know how to handle my house and town blowing away" look has left us for the most part. The Lady Hornets basketball team showed us how to persevere at just the right time, and enough helping hands showed up to make it possible for us to put our lives together. Starting over is hard, but we know it's not impossible. "We are Magoffin" has turned into a battle cry for the county, meaning we will get past this. We're stronger than that. Somehow, Magoffin sustained ZERO deaths from the tornado, despite the 170 MPH winds and 3/4-mile wide destruction zone cutting through the county. And now we know many things we never thought about two years ago.
If Jimmy Caldwell or Chris Bailey says, "Get in your safe place," we all head to the basement. No laughing matter and no questions asked. Wield that power accordingly, boys. Our "safe place" has a weather radio and some batteries if it has nothing else. More than likely there's some water stocked back, flashlights and a landline phone, available, too. We have a plan. We know where we're going, who we're gathering up with us, and what to do when we get there. There will be no more sitting in the basement for an hour, waiting to see if it's safe to come out. Check on your neighbor. Every able-bodied person "worth their salt" got out on March 3, 2012, and helped their neighbors. They picked up what was left of belongings, boarded up what was still standing to keep it safe from looters, which we had our fair share of, and made out a bed on the couch until they could figure something else out. In less than a week, shelters were able to close at night, with everyone finding a place to stay. With 300 homes hit, that means there were A LOT of gracious family members, neighbors and friends taking in people. We need more emergency communication strategies. Following the lead of surrounding counties, the Magoffin County Fiscal Court purchased and instituted a system that sends out mass calls to go out in the event of an emergency. Time and time, again, the fiscal court and city council have discussed putting up warning sirens, but no money has been made available for those purchases.
Be skeptical. There are good people in the world, and Magoffin was visited by countless good Samaritans, offering much-needed supplies, aid and advice, but we know to be skeptical now. Don't give out your social security number or FEMA number to just anyone. Make sure every bit of aid comes from a reliable source, not someone trying to find out enough information to steal your identity, money, or beat you out of a deal. Above all, we have learned what we can handle. It was stressful, putting it lightly, and the miles of plowed down trees are a constant reminder of what can happen. But we're all here. Rebuilding, coping, persevering. And for that, we should all be thankful. While news of the tornado slowly disappears from our headlines, as always, we will continue to highlight the rebuilding process as information becomes available.
Photo by Jo Harvey