“Catastrophic damage” and fatalities in the Bowling Green tornado
Tornadoes: latest updates from ravaged Kentucky
Severe weather caused extensive damage to homes and businesses in Bowling Green early Saturday morning, causing several deaths and injuries.
Brad Ausbrooks woke up to the sound of his phone warning him that there was a tornado warning in the area early on Saturday.
Ausbrooks, who lives near Smallhouse Road in Bowling Green, looked out. Things seemed calm, but it didn’t last, he said.
“All of a sudden he took it up a notch,” Ausbrooks recalled on Saturday afternoon.
He saw bright blue and green explosions at one point, which he said could be some kind of electrical explosion. Her home is safe, but others nearby have been damaged. On Saturday afternoon, he was clearing trees and debris along the 31W bypass, a key commercial area in the city. Dozens of businesses have been damaged, some completely devastated, in the region.
Authorities said inclement weather hit Bowling Green and Warren County around 1 a.m. central time, destroying or damaging homes and businesses, knocking over trees and utility poles and throwing debris on the roads. Thousands of people were without power, according to Bowling Green Municipal Utilities’ outage map.
the National Weather Service in Louisville said the tornado damage at Bowling Green was classified as EF-3, with wind speeds estimated at 150 miles per hour.
A tornado originated in northeast Arkansas and rose in Breckenridge County, covering a continuous distance of 223 miles, according to the Kentucky Emergency Management Division. Governor Andy Beshear reported that the tornado may have traveled 227 miles.
Beshear called it “the most severe tornado event in Kentucky history,” and it is said to have claimed at least 70 lives.
Damage and fatalities have been reported across western Kentucky. The worst damage appears to be in Graves County in far western Kentucky, where Mayfield, the county seat, has been devastated.
The collapse of the roof of a candle factory in Mayfield with around 110 people inside claimed many lives, Beshear said on Saturday morning. Just before noon, about 40 of the 110 people at the factory had been rescued.
Constable Ronnie Ward, a spokesperson for the Bowling Green Police Department, said officers were looking for missing and injured people in an area of ââRussellville Road where there was large amounts of debris at 1:15 p.m. PT. of the Center. Ward could not confirm the number of deaths at Bowling Green.
The damage was widespread, he said.
âIt’s literally all over town,â Ward said Saturday morning.
In a residential area off Russellville Road, yards were littered with broken wood, pieces of siding and insulation torn from homes and apartments. People scavenged clothes and small furniture from damaged houses as a cold wind blew.
Alexis Harney did not hear sirens or alerts from her phone, but woke up to the sound of the wind early on Saturday morning. The neighborhood of Creekwood where she lives was one of the hardest hit areas in town, Ward said.
Harney jumped out of bed and tried to grab her cat, Willow, as things started to fly around her bedroom. Harney grabbed the bathroom door handle with one hand and put the other hand behind her head for protection. She eventually made it to the bathroom and stayed there until the storm was over.
âIt was terrifying,â she said.
The storm didn’t last long and Harney was able to retrieve her phone and shoes. With the help of a neighbor, she got to safety and called her parents. She returned to Creekwood Avenue on Saturday afternoon to try to locate Willow, who is still missing after the storm.
JR Wade is a State Farm insurance agent in Bowling Green. The agency was damaged in storms on Saturday morning, with windows blown out. The building was still standing, while others along the road had been leveled.
âIt’s devastating damage,â Wade said of businesses along the ring road. âCatastrophic damage to all these buildings. “
Parts of Bowling Green were still without power as people started cleaning homes and businesses.
âSo many people are going to be displaced,â Wade said.
Western Kentucky University was scheduled to hold its fall graduation ceremonies on Saturday. The university initially released a statement saying a student died in the storms. However, later on Saturday, the university clarified that “the aforementioned student death is now considered a close relative of a WKU student.”
“Information is still coming in, but currently WKU is not aware of any deaths within the student body,” the university said in a press release.
There were also no injuries or deaths among the students who lived on campus, President Timothy Caboni said, but the WKU canceled the graduation ceremonies on Saturday. By Saturday afternoon power had been restored to parts of the campus and other areas were running out of back-up generators, according to WKU.
Bob Skipper, chief of the Woodburn Fire Department, said the service went out early this morning in the western part of the county, going house to house to make sure people were okay.
He found extensive property damage, including houses with damaged roofs, utility poles and downed trees.
âIt flattened a lot of businesses on the ring road,â Skipper said, referring to the 31W ring road, a key shopping area in the city.
Kevin Kirby, Warren County coroner, said he has worked on tornadoes before, but “nothing like it.”
âWe see a mess,â Kirby said. “It’s like a bomb has gone off.”
Kirby said the coroner’s office was working on about 12 cases on Saturday morning, but could not yet release the names of those who died.
Authorities were also responding to reports of gas leaks caused by storm damage. Crews were working to clear the debris from the roads, and police urged people not to use the road unless necessary.
The city had opened several shelters, including one at South Warren High School. Police have posted a number that people can call to report missing loved ones, serious damage, gas leaks and power line failures. This is 270-393-4116.
Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott urged Bowling Green residents to stay off the roads unless necessary, and said if people want to help they can visit www.redcross.org and earmark money in the Warren County Chapter. Alcott praised the town’s first responders, saying they had been working since 1 a.m.
âI am proud of our team. I am proud of Bowling Green. I am proud of Warren County, âsaid Alcott. âI am proud of our central emergency responders and I am proud of the team that came together.
This story was originally published 11 December 2021 08:26 a.m.