Kentucky families struggle after being hit by tornado for the second time in the same locations

Kentucky families struggle after being hit by tornado for the second time in the same locations

BARNSLEY, Kentucky – Devin Johnson’s life was uprooted for the second time when a tornado ripped through his home over Memorial Day weekend, on the same lot in Kentucky where another storm left him homeless in 2021.

Johnson, 21, watched Tuesday as workers used chainsaws to cut down the remains of the trailer he called home with his grandparents and girlfriend. It was a scene all too familiar to his family.

Their previous home in the small western Kentucky community of Barnsley was destroyed during another terrifying tornado outbreak in December 2021 that killed 81 people in the Bluegrass State.

“We never thought this would happen again,” Johnson said.

Amid all the uncertainty as they start over, there is one thing they have decided, he said.

“The only thing we know for sure is we’re not coming back here,” Johnson said. “He will have many memories of us losing everything.”

Barnsley was hit Sunday by a powerful tornado that generated winds of up to 165 mph (266 kph) and carved a destructive path across nearly 36 miles (58 kilometers) of Kentucky, the National Weather Service said.

The region was hit by multiple rounds of severe storms and damage investigation teams were assessing the wreckage to determine how many tornadoes struck. Another powerful storm on Sunday barely missed the town of Mayfield, where a painstaking recovery from a tornado that hit the town in 2021 continues.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency over Sunday’s storms and reported five deaths statewide. The governor toured storm-hit areas of western Kentucky on Monday.

“We are committed to helping rebuild every home and every life — that’s a promise,” Beshear said Tuesday on social media platform X.

In Barnsley, the tornado ripped through a storm-weary section of the community and dumped Johnson’s mangled trailer into a yard next to where Mark Minton’s family lived. The Minton family suffered roof damage and one end of their trailer came off its foundation. The 2021 storm destroyed his home.

“I’m pretty good at statistics and probability and those numbers don’t add up,” Minton said Tuesday about his family’s home that was attacked twice.

He still doesn’t know if this time it will be a total loss. His family stayed where he was after the 2021 storm, but he’s not sure what they will do after the latest tornado, which hit the day after his daughter’s wedding. He owns a lawn care business and his youngest son will be a high school senior next school year, two factors driving him to stay.

“I’ve seen my fair share of storms,” ​​Minton said. “But seeing the same area, with almost millimeter precision, receive two hits in two years, it is difficult to stay in that area.”

His family fled to safety both times before each storm hit. While her family stays with relatives, she said she spends nights at home to protect against possible looting.

Johnson’s family also fled before the tornado on Sunday, taking shelter with a relative in nearby Madisonville. Watching the weather warnings as the storm moved towards Barnsley, they had a sinking feeling.

“We all felt like we had lost everything again,” he said.

Later, as he was driving home, emergency vehicles sped past him. When she turned the corner into his neighborhood, “there was just nothing” as she approached his family’s lot.

In 2021, Johnson’s family weathered the storm in their trailer. With no basement, Johnson huddled in the kitchen, clinging desperately to a table with her grandparents, sister and his boyfriend. His uncle and his aunt covered themselves with a mattress in the hallway.

“You started hearing a roar and then the whole house started shaking,” he recalled. “The electricity started flickering and the windows just shattered. And then all of a sudden you feel the wind and the pressure and this roar that rips through the house and starts pulling at you and trying to drag you out.”

Everyone was unharmed, but the trailer was destroyed. From the rubble they rescued some belongings, including a beloved statue of Jesus and Mary that his grandmother had for decades, Johnson said. They recovered some family mementos, including photographs.

Johnson’s family furnished their new trailer in stages once they raised enough money, he said. But after the last tornado, the family’s home and belongings were scattered throughout the neighborhood.

“This time, everything we have is gone,” he said.

Later that day, they found an engagement ring that had belonged to his girlfriend’s grandmother.

“It’s very meaningful to her because it’s the last memory she has of her grandmother,” he said.

His family was insured both times when the tragedy occurred. But his situation is as serious as the first time.

“Right now we don’t have any money,” Johnson said. “So we’re just trying to figure out how to proceed next.”

He stays in a motel in Madisonville and his family helps him with expenses.

The plan is to move to Madisonville. He and his girlfriend have saved money since the 2021 storm in hopes of getting their own house, but for now they will likely live with his grandparents, he said. Johnson works in a warehouse in Madisonville and his girlfriend works in a factory.

“Since then we have been very tight with all the bills we had to pass,” he said.

After seeing the immense force of the tornadoes, he longs for a house with a basement.

“We know the power they are capable of and how easily they can take your life,” he said.


Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky.