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Kentucky was hard hit by catastrophic storms that hit the South and Midwest

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The mayor of Mayfield, Ky., says a candle factory was only one structure destroyed by tornadoes last weekend. That mayor is Kathy Stewart O'Nan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHY STEWART O'NAN: Our city hall was destroyed. Our fire station was destroyed. I don't think there's a pane of glass in any vehicle or property that the city owns that isn't shattered.

INSKEEP: And as we've seen from videos, many houses are also destroyed. We're going to now hear of the damage now as it looked to Jacqueline Coleman, who is Kentucky's lieutenant governor. Lieutenant Governor, good morning. Thank you for taking the time.

JACQUELINE COLEMAN: Good morning, and thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: Would you tell us where you've been in the last day and what you've seen?

COLEMAN: Yes. So you just heard from Mayfield's mayor, and that's where a lot of folks are concentrating on because of the candle factory and because of the concentration of the loss of life. But I have to tell you that a tornado that travels 200 miles through your state does a lot of damage in a lot of places. And so a couple of places that I visited yesterday were in Muhlenberg County and Ohio County.

Muhlenberg County has - in the city of Bremen has about 300 people in the city limits. And the county has suffered 12 deaths up to this point. And so the - anything in the path of this storm was completely flattened. In Ohio County, they were fortunate enough to not have a loss of life. But they are still counting on 50 homes that have been essentially destroyed. And so it's 50 families that are looking for a place to go now.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant Governor, we're talking here in many cases about small towns. You mentioned a town of 300 in Muhlenberg County - a county made famous by John Prine, by the way...

COLEMAN: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: ...Smaller towns, older communities, communities that I guess are accustomed to tornadoes. Are you surprised that structures did not stand up better to this?

COLEMAN: You know, I don't know that anything could have stood up to the power of this storm. There - like I said, the tornado - one tornado was on the ground for 200 straight miles, which has never happened before.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

COLEMAN: They are now looking at how many different tornadoes were actually active at the time. And the last I heard was three that they think, so this was massive. And I'm - anything in the wake of this storm, whether it was a factory or a house or a courthouse or a church, was destroyed.

INSKEEP: What kinds of stories are you hearing from people as you move about?

COLEMAN: You know, the loss of life is significant. The destruction of property is visible in the images that we see. But what I see when I'm on the ground is the hope of neighbors helping neighbors and the influx of support within a community from folks who didn't - you know, they were fortunate enough to not lose their home.

But also, counties from across Kentucky and even surrounding states and states across the country are sending in resources, and they're donating to our relief fund that we started for these folks. And as of yesterday afternoon, the count was 2.3 million that we had raised that quickly for the recovery efforts out in West Kentucky. And I know that number is growing. And so the hope and the unity that we're seeing is special. But it makes me, you know, believe in Kentucky and what we stand for and that we're going to rebuild and recover, and we're going to get through this.

INSKEEP: How do people contribute? You said people are donating to that relief fund.

COLEMAN: Yes, sir. So the website that you can donate to - and every dollar goes directly to help the recovery folks on the - the recovery and the folks on the ground. And that is teamwkyrelieffund.ky.gov. And anything from a dollar to as much as you can spare for folks who lost their homes two weeks - you know, you think about this is two weeks before Christmas. And you know, as a teacher, as a mother, those - I think about those kids and what they're going to go through, not just in losing their home, but in having a tradition like Christmas look so different for them this year.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant Governor, did you have moments as you moved about to reflect on the seeming randomness of this, where it was hard to tell why that house was destroyed and the house across the street is standing and seems to be fine?

COLEMAN: Absolutely. There - I mean, the storm traveled in a - it was - it's a direct line. And you'll see one home that's absolutely demolished, and perhaps the home beside it was out of that range of fire, and it's standing and may have minimal damage, but it's still there. You know, I think the other piece that you - that we don't see because it's not visible like the destruction is what a - what an agriculturally dependent region this is. And so I'm talking with folks in Ohio County who have lost 30 head of cattle, they have no idea where they are, where a farmer who has seven chicken houses that each house 3,000 chickens completely gone. So this is the livelihood of these folks that's going to be part of the long-term rebuild that we're going to have to focus on.

INSKEEP: Jacqueline Coleman is lieutenant governor of Kentucky. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much, ma'am.

COLEMAN: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.