In the midst of what most would consider utter chaos, Bremen farmer Kenny Smith sees a coordinated recovery effort and a path forward. Smith’s Muhlenberg County farm was one of many across Western Kentucky that sustained unthinkable damage from the Dec. 10 tornadoes. The EF4 long-track tornado tore through 128 miles in eight Western Kentucky counties with additional tornados impacting even more areas. Smith, a cattle producer, lost his hay barn, several other buildings, all the shade for his cattle, and his garage. Miraculously, his home only sustained minor damage.
His county agriculture and natural resources extension agent, Darrell Simpson, is one of the many people from across the United States helping Smith start anew.
“Darrell has been super. He’s given more than 100% and stepped in and given everyone what they need,” Smith said.
Smith is just one of the Muhlenberg County farmers Simpson is helping to recover. In the days following the tornado, Simpson moved grain from damaged bins, provided producers with contacts and information for the Farm Service Agency and other aid resources, helped repair fences, and offered support for farmers.
He is one of many University of Kentucky Cooperative extension agents and volunteers stepping up to provide needed assistance to their clients–most of whom they would consider friends or family. With a presence in all 120 counties, UK Cooperative Extension Service agents play vital roles in large and small communities across the state. They serve on local leadership boards, direct community programs, and provide research-based education from the university. They serve their communities in happy and challenging times.
“We live and work here. These people are our family,” said Melissa Goodman, Hickman family and consumer sciences extension agent.
Goodman sprang into action immediately after the tornado went through her Mississippi River county Friday night, working with local emergency management personnel to provide food and shelter for victims at a local church in Clinton. As the week progressed, the church housed 15 Kentucky National Guard members. Goodman continued to provide food there and to lineman in partnership with another Clinton church.
While the tornado went through a rural area of the county, it still completely leveled 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 tornadic system initially entered the state from Tennessee and hit the community of Cayce. Ben Rudy, the county’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent, lives just outside of the community. While his home and farm suffered some damage, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Cayce, population 92, lost 23 homes, three businesses, the fire department, and suffered one fatality.
“One of our poultry producers lost six poultry barns. Thankfully, their chickens were picked up earlier in the week, and no animals were in the structures when the tornado hit,” Rudy said. “We also had a grain producer who lost a grain bin leg and has damage to three of his bins.”
Rudy is using various means of communication to reach area farmers with ways they can get disaster assistance as well as information on food safety and generator safety. He’s also a member of the local emergency response team and has been relaying 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’s 4-H youth development agent, organized a community donation location for bedding for first responders and Kentucky National Guard members who are staying at the West Kentucky 4-H Camp in hard-hit Dawson Springs.
“I wanted to find a unique way for our local 4-H community to contribute to meaningful recovery efforts,” McCuiston said.
Members of the Todd County 4-H Teen Leadership Council helped her load the items into the trailer.
“I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I drove through Pembroke (in neighboring Christian County),” said Andrew McDonald, a Todd County 4-H’er from Trenton. “It really allowed me to put myself in the place of other people and realize how lucky I am.”
McDonald is just one of many 4-H members across the state springing into action. The Pennyrile Region Teen Leadership Council raised $1,000 to support tornado victims. Crittenden County 4-H’er Maggie Blazina used a holiday gift-giving program for teenagers in need she began several years ago called “Stuff the Bus” to help her local 4-H club collect donations for tornado victims.
Like many 4-H’ers and the greater extension community, McDonald said he hopes to do more for the tornado victims in the future and wants to be there for victims as they begin to rebuild.
“4-H is mainly about giving back and helping out where you can,” he said. “I definitely want to be a part of the 4-H group from this county that goes there to help when it is safe to do so.”