TORNADO CONFIRMED: Volunteers step in for massive cleanup

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By Donald Richie

As the clean up begins from last Wednesdays now-confirmed EF-2 tornado, residents from all across the county are coming together to offer aid.

Shaw Lane farmer Paul Colson said he felt like he had lost everything. After a few days, however, his perspective changed.

When I arrived at my farm at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, I thought I had lost everything in the world, Colson said in a letter to The Cynthiana Democrat. It took me a couple of days to realize that I had actually lost very little and gained so much more.

The generosity of his neighbors proved to him that Harrison County residents have more mettle than they are often credited.

Colson lost his dairy barn, a tobacco barn (which had tobacco in it), a hay shed and the roof off his apartment when the storm tore through the southeastern portion of the county.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 6, his neighbors showed up to help him with his immense clean up tasks.

Over the next few days, those neighbors helped him load up cows to take to his brothers farm in Grant County, and hang up his tobacco on rail wagons.

After that, he said they stayed for two more days, helping tear down what was left of the tobacco barn.

All of it was done with no thought of compensation.

Tired, dirty and wore completely out from tearing the barn apart by hand, my friends would accept no pay, Colson said. I can never say thank you enough to them

Volunteers lined up from all over this weekend to help out in whatever fashion they could.

Harrison County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett said over 300 people volunteered on Saturday to help start the cleaning and rebuilding processes for those affected.

The turnout of volunteers is something Barnett said is the true picture of Harrison County.

Id like to take the opportunity to thank everybody that volunteered, he said. Its great to see the community come together like this.

Its just a tremendous effort and it proves that Harrison County is a great place to live, because when the chips are down, we look out for each other.

Behind the damaged houses on Connersville Pike, the 120-year-old peg barn belonging to Brian and Kelly Hill was completely flattened by the twister.

Kelly was trying to salvage what she could find of the pegs which had held the structure together, knowing that kind of quality just isnt found in barn building these days.

It would cost probably... $100,000 to build one back like this was, she said.

A group from the Hills church, Robinson Christian, came Saturday to help with clearing the debris.

Theyve really helped out a lot, Kelly said, noting they are trying to salvage what they can.

In the big picture, she said losing the barn was small compared to what could have happened.

Were very fortunate, she said.

The Harrison County Beef Cattle Association set up at the county barn to serve meals to the volunteers, something Kelly Hill said was a big help.

We got the whole crew some food, she said. We appreciated that.

With the scope of the storms path, many Harrison County residents were without power for several days. Both Blue Grass Energy and Kentucky Utilities lost numerous power poles, including a main KU line off Connersville Pike.

Barnett complimented the electric utilities for the work involved in restoring power as quickly as possible.

They worked their tails off and brought people in from other areas and they all worked together, he said.

On the official side, Barnett declared a state of emergency for the county as soon as it was light enough for him to see the damage. He said he is waiting to see if Gov. Steve Beshear names Harrison to the list of counties listed as disaster areas. If that happens, federal aid could come into play.

With the number of tornadoes equalling the outbreak of 74 and the total number of dollars the rebuild is going to take, I would imagine the president will declare Kentucky as a disaster area, he said.

County employees were also called in to help in several capacities.

Ive tried to offer the same thing: to do what the county can do to help clean up, Barnett said. Thats one thing the county can do is help clean up.

To that end, the county is offering free dumping at the road barn on Connersville Pike and county employees have been helping organize volunteer labor.

Mike Palmer [Harrison County EMA director] was taking phone calls from people who needed volunteers and as volunteers came in, he would tell them where to go, Barnett said.

For Barnett, the storm hit close to home. The tornado apparently started in a field just behind the Mt. Vernon Road home of Barnetts parents, G. Kenton and Jennifer. It swept by and took part of the roof of the house he grew up in.

All the trees I played in as a young boy are gone now, he said. Almost every tree in the yard was taken down.

Help from the Mennonite community has been crucial, said Barnett. He said they helped fix part is his parents roof and continued on to other locations, offering what help they could.

In fact, they made their way to Colsons farm on the other side of the county. He said 12 Mennonite men worked all afternoon on Feb. 7, to clean up his fallen dairy barn.

I was not there when they left to say thank you, Colson said, offering that thanks through his letter. But to each of you, you left a lasting impression of what truly decent and honest people you are.

Barnett agreed.

[They] have proven to be such a great asset to the community, he said. Their work ethic and non-stop attitude is a tremendous help.

Statistically, Barnett has been keeping an unofficial tab, which he says changes with each day.

He said there were two houses destroyed, five with major damage, two with moderate damage and six with minor damage.

Barns fared much worse.

Barnett said 18 barns were destroyed, four with major damage, three with moderate damage and nine with minor damage.

He said he expects the number of damaged and destroyed barns would likely increase as people are able to get in the more remote areas to check on them.

All that is on top of the commercial and public facilities which sustained damage.

Clean up will take a fair amount of choreography. Environmental laws limit what types of items can be burned and barn materials are generally prohibited. Barnett was scheduled to meet with representatives from the state division of air quality to determine what can be done.

He asked that anyone needing to dispose of barn material contact his office at 234-7136 for the proper procedures.

Barnett said despite the mess and loss, Harrison County ended up better that it could have.

Were just fortunate that no one in the county was hurt and no one was killed, he said. With the type of destruction we had, its just a miracle.