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“Thank God the trees that fell on my house really kept the whole house from blowing away,” said Francisco Rios. “Thank God the volunteers are here to help.” 

The volunteers—from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS)—are helping Rios demolish his home in Mayfield, Kentucky. It was too badly damaged by the December tornado to salvage. He plans to rebuild on the same lot, but admits the disaster has put a big delay in his dream. 

“For 20 years, I worked for a painting company, and last year I started my own business, Rios Painting,” he said. “I’ve lived in this house for 16 years.”

Business was—and still is—going well, and Rios had saved enough money to begin making improvements on the house. He built a new fence so his three dogs could run and play in the backyard. 

Then the storm hit. Rios huddled in the closet with the dogs and prayed, terrified as the twister blew three large trees down on the roof. 

“But the way the trees fell, one held off the other two, otherwise the house would have been crushed,” explained Rios. 

The force of the trees and the wind shifted the house on its foundation, nearly breaking it in half. Somehow, Rios and his dogs emerged without injury.

“I’ve already repaired the fence, so I come here with my dogs every day,” said Rios, who is staying with family for now. “Thank God the volunteers are helping with the demolition.”

 

*      *      *

 

One day at a time

A few blocks away, homeowner Chasity Walton stands in front of her home which, like Rios’s, was nearly torn in half by the tornado. She rode out the storm up the street at her mother’s house with her three children, ages 13, 7 and 2. 

“I grabbed some diapers for my two-year-old and we went to my mother’s,” she said. That was all she had time to grab; she lost nearly everything when the tornado ripped around her home, and a deluge of rain drenched everything inside. 

“I’ve lived in Mayfield for 35 years—all my life,” she said. “I’m staying in Mayfield, but right now I have to take it one day at a time.”

 

*      *      *

 

Searching for reasons

Jimmy Galbreath stood in the cold on his front sidewalk, meeting with Amanda Jones, a caseworker from Homes and Hope for Kentucky, the local long-term recovery organization. 

When Galbreath describes how he escaped the tornado, his voice breaks. “I tried to outrun it in my truck,” he said. “I was driving down the highway and I noticed people had stopped under a bridge.

“I should have stopped,” he said. “The wind was terrible, blew a cinder block into my truck, then another, and another. Then my whole truck was turned sideways.”

Terrified, Galbreath said he prayed. When the wind stopped, he was able to drive home. “I followed the lines on the road,” he said. “That’s all I knew how to do.”

“There must be a reason why I’m still here, I have 18 grandchildren. I wasn’t ready to die in this storm.”

— Jimmy Galbreath

His house sustained major damage, and assessors are not sure if it’s salvageable. “There must be a reason why I’m still here,” said Galbreath. “I have 18 grandchildren. I wasn’t ready to die in this storm.”

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