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Path of Destruction

Tornadoes wreak havoc on Tennessee, Kentucky residents Dec. 10-11
Story and photos by Claire Hill 1/21/2022

 

Severe weather forever changed the landscape of communities in Tennessee and Kentucky on Dec. 10-11. Keith Kemp, a member of Weakley Farmers Co-op, lost his home, barn, and farm equipment to the tornado that touched down in Dresden.
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High winds, pelting rain, and multiple tornadoes left a path of destruction across West Tennessee and Kentucky on Dec. 10-11, claiming five lives in Tennessee, 77 in Kentucky, and destroying most of the town of Mayfield, Ky. 


Farmers throughout the areas were among those affected by the catastrophic storm. Many lost equipment, silos, shops, sheds, livestock, and fences. Business and homeowners lost their homes and livelihoods.  


The storm left more than 150,000 Tennesseans without power — some for days after — and homes, farms, and businesses forever changed. Kenton, Dresden, Sharon, and Samburg were among the hardest-hit communities in Tennessee. 


“This storm damage will affect our economy for years to come,” says Weakley Farmers Co-op General Manager Paul Wilson. “There are businesses in downtown Dresden that have already announced that they don’t plan to rebuild.”


With nine Tennessee counties experiencing severe storm damage, federal aid was granted to Weakley, Lake, Stewart, Obion, Gibson, Dyer, Dickson, Decatur, and Cheatham counties, for funding reimbursement for emergency measures taken in response to the disaster. 


“We have stepped up to help our neighbors and friends,” says Wilson. “Volunteer groups from all over the United States, including local groups, have come to provide daily needs like food, clothing, and items we take for granted. The groups are also donating their time to help clear debris and aid where needed.” 


The path of the tornadoes veered from small towns to neighborhoods to farmland. Weakley Farmers Co-op Board President Kenny Caldwell’s father, Gerald, lives in a Dresden neighborhood. Surrounding homes were leveled, and Gerald’s home had limited damage to roofing shingles as well as some broken windows. Gerald is a past member of the Tennessee Farmers Cooperative board of directors.  


“It’s amazing how Gerald’s house saw little damage, and homes 20 feet from him were demolished,” says Wilson. “You can see the path of the tornado as it swept through our area by the tree stumps, snapped trees, debris, and destruction of buildings.” 


Pieces of metal, debris, and even photographs have been found hundreds of miles from the affected counties.  


“I came across metal roofing and siding in the field I was working in yesterday,” says Weakley Farmers Co-op Applicator Austin Lee. “People have been finding debris and personal effects miles from their homes.” 


Lee, a resident of Sharon, was one of the many people who lost their homes in the damaging storm. 


“I was at home when the shed came through the wall and a 2” by 6” [board] went underneath the couch cushion that

I was laying on,” Lee recalls. “I flipped

the couch cushions on top of me on the floor to protect myself as best I could.

The storm didn’t last five minutes, but it was extremely windy after that. As it was dark, I didn’t know the extent of the damage until the next day. My windshield is broken on my vehicle as well, but overall, I was blessed to have made it through the disaster.” 


Lee says the 15-acre wooded area surrounding his home is now nothing but stumps. 


Tractors, combines, trailers, sprayers, and applicators were torn from equipment sheds. Miles of farm fences need repair, barns lay flat, and hundreds of head of livestock were lost.   


Dresden farmer Keith Kemp, a member of Weakley Farmers Co-op, lost his home, barn, and equipment shed. Kemp, a certified public accountant in Dresden, received a ride to his office from neighbor, Alexander Bynum, who also lost sheds and livestock, to take shelter from the storm that continued to rage into the morning hours of December 11. 


“We have been helping clear debris, pack up the remainder of friends’ belongings from their homes, and deliver meals in Dresden,” says Weakley Farmers Co-op Marketing Manager Rhonda McDaniel. “It’s rewarding to help people I’ve known my whole life, but at the same time, heart-wrenching as they’ve lost everything in almost a blink of the eye.” 


Among the farmers affected, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC) board member Amos Huey, a resident of Kenton, experienced severe damage to his farm. His daughter lost her home, but, he says, thankfully no family members were hurt. 


Weakley Farmers Co-op has sponsored meals, donated equipment to help with debris cleanup, and provided personnel to help with disaster recovery. TFC is evaluating current needs to help with recovery efforts. 


“Fleet of Angels, a nonprofit organization supporting equine rescue and recovery, called (Weakley Farmers Co-op) and wanted to help a member with equine purchases,” says McDaniel. “The member lost three horses and their hay barn.”


For more information regarding recovery resources, visit https://www.cfmt.org/giving-and-investing/become-a-donor/give-to-a-fund/tennessee-farm-disaster-response-fund/. Affected farmers can also apply for funding through the Tennessee Farm Bureau Disaster Fund at https://cfmt.formstack.com/forms/farmbureau. 


 
 
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