Do what families do: Extension workers help tornado victims in western Kentucky
By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky
Amid utter chaos, Bremen farmer Kenny Smith sees a coordinated recovery effort and a way forward.
Smith’s Muhlenberg County farm was one of many in western Kentucky that suffered unthinkable damage from the December 10 tornadoes. Long track tornado EF4 traversed 128 miles in eight counties in western Kentucky with additional tornadoes affecting even more areas. Smith, a cattle rancher, lost his hay barn, several other buildings, all shade for his cattle and his garage. Miraculously, his house suffered only minor damage.
Her county agriculture and natural resources extension officer, Darrell Simpson, is one of many people across the United States who are helping Smith get a fresh start.
âDarrell has been great. He gave over 100% and stepped in and gave everyone what they needed, âSmith said.
Smith is just one of the farmers in Muhlenberg County that Simpson is helping to recover. In the days following the tornado, Simpson moved grain from damaged bins, provided growers with contacts and information for the Farm Service Agency and other support resources, helped repair fences, and offered a support for farmers.
He is one of the many University of Kentucky cooperative extension workers and volunteers who have stepped up to provide needed help to their clients, most of whom would consider friends or family. With a presence in all 120 counties, UK Cooperative Extension Service agents play a vital role in communities large and small across the state. They sit on local governing boards, run community programs and provide research-based education at the university. They serve their communities in happy and difficult times.
âWe live and work here. These people are our family, âsaid Melissa Goodman, Hickman Family and Consumer Science Extension Officer.
Goodman sprang into action immediately after the tornado swept through his Mississippi county on Friday night, working with local emergency management staff to provide food and shelter for victims at a local church in Clinton. As the week went on, the church housed 15 members of the Kentucky National Guard. Goodman continued to provide food there and go up the line in partnership with another Clinton church.
As the tornado passed through a rural area of ââthe county, it still completely razed 13 houses and damaged more than 40 structures. The next town the tornadic system would reach was Mayfield.
Just south of Hickman County is Fulton County, where the tornado system initially entered the state from Tennessee and hit the community of Cayce. Ben Rudy, the county’s agricultural and natural resources extension officer, lives just outside the community. Although his house and farm were damaged, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Cayce, 92, lost 23 homes, three businesses, firefighters and suffered one death.
âOne of our poultry producers lost six barns. Fortunately, their chickens were picked up earlier in the week and no animals were in the structures when the tornado hit, âsaid Rudy. âWe also had a grain farmer who lost a grain elevator leg and damaged three of his elevators. “
Rudy uses various means of communication to reach farmers in the area with ways to get disaster relief as well as food safety and generator safety information. He is also a member of the local emergency response team and relayed local information from local emergency management, the fire department and the sheriff’s department.
Further east, Todd County 4-H is finding ways to help area tornado victims. Lee Ann McCuiston, the County 4-H Youth Development Officer, hosted a community bedding donation location for first responders and members of the Kentucky National Guard staying at the West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Dawson Springs hit hard.
âI wanted to find a unique way for our local 4-H community to contribute to meaningful recovery efforts,â said McCuiston.
Members of the Todd County 4-H Teen Leadership Council helped her load the items into the trailer.
âI didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I walked through Pembroke (in neighboring Christian County),â said Andrew McDonald, a 4-H’er from Todd County from Trenton. “It really allowed me to put myself in other people’s shoes and realize how lucky I am.”
McDonald’s is just one of many 4-H members across the state who are stepping into action. The Pennyrile Region Teen Leadership Council raised $ 1,000 to help victims of the tornado. Crittenden County 4-H’er Maggie Blazina used a holiday gift program for needy teens that she started several years ago called “Stuff the Bus” to help her local 4-H club to collect donations for the victims of the tornado.
Like many 4-Hs and the wider community, McDonald’s said he hopes to do more for tornado victims in the future and wants to be there for the victims as they begin to rebuild themselves.
â4-H is all about giving back and helping where you can,â he said. “I really want to be part of the 4-H group from this county that goes out there to help out when it’s safe to do so.”