From Kentucky to Craig and back, former residents of tornado-devastated towns want to help
Cris French sings the history of Dawson Springs.
The one-time “Mineral Capital of the World,” a resort town and later a coal town of some renown, Dawson Springs, Kentucky, was once a destination.
French, who came to Craig in the coal industry like so many others and made a new home here, has watched from afar with horror as his already long-downtrodden home was destroyed by tornadoes last week.
“Picture Hayden,” French said Monday. “Take 500 houses, destroy them. Take the fire department, crush it. Take all your communications, infrastructure, water supply, gas lines, electricity, destroy it, gone. Can’t call Craig, their communication is gone.”
The death toll sits above a dozen Thursday. It will probably climb much higher. The town, a little smaller than Craig, is practically demolished. The devastation is catastrophic.
“First thing was I wanted to run out there and help, take a trailer,” French said. “That’s human instinct. I talked to my sister, she was going on 72 hours, taken someone up there and said ‘I cried.’ The emotional trauma. The pictures my friends sent me.”
French just trailed off shaking his head.
“I’m looking at some way to help these individuals,” he said.
That’s the same instinct of a lot of people, including a fellow former local, Craig pastor Parrish Terry.
“You’re hearing and finding out on the news channels that this area — people are used to loss,” Terry said by phone Thursday. “They’ve had tornadoes. They’re very resilient. And you see the devastation, but you know they will rebuild. My cousin lost everything, and right now it’s a real heavy loss. But there’s glimmers of hope. They weren’t home. He says if they were home, they wouldn’t have left, and they wouldn’t be with us anymore.”
Terry is from Beulah, Kentucky, which he describes more accurately as a “crossroads.” His family acreage escaped damage. His cousin’s didn’t. Neither did dozens of people he knows.
“We know people, Cris is the same,” Terry said. “We know people, and we know people who know people that have passed. And people don’t all realize, but about 8, 9, 10 years ago there was another tornado that ripped through there, different path and trajectory, but the same area. It’s still not completely rebuilt.”
Terry and French both immediately wanted to help. Then they realized the same thing French’s sister said to him.
“She says everybody will grab their stuff, their jackets, their clothes, nobody has anywhere to put this,” French said. “Nobody has any storage.”
Terry has had close communication with friends and family back home. He says what little storage there is in fact is being filled up.
“There’s right now gymnasiums — the elementary school in my town, was a high school when I was growing up there, it’s full of food, supplies, everything,” Terry said. “So is the Dawson Springs gymnasium. People, the way they work through the pain is they busy themselves helping others.”
That doesn’t mean the people there don’t need help, though, and Terry and French are both looking for ways to deliver what is still required.
“I’m hearing gift cards,” Terry said, echoing something French said earlier. “The surplus of actual tangible goods is overwhelming. They have them, but gift cards they can use for gas, food, whatever else they need when they need it. This could change as time goes on, but at this time, that’s what people I talk to say.”
French is looking for anything he can do. His son, Asher, moved here just a year ago to live with his dad. Asher’s mom’s house had a train derail right in front of it. It’s personal for these families.
Showing pictures from a friend that were posted on Facebook, French lamented the losses.
“There’s nothing left of this house,” French said. “They’ve lost — the barn, everything. This is how this affects them.”
There are so many more.
“I have friends and ideas, but I need an organizer,” French said. “I’ll do anything for these people. Blood, sweat, anything.”
Terry is working on the same.
“We’re taking an offering at my church,” Terry said. “This Sunday, and I’ll send it back to the churches I know there that can distribute it. Anybody who wants to make a cash donation or gift cards or anything we can send through the mail, contact me and I’ll take care of that, send it out Wednesday of next week.”
Terry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. French can be contacted on Facebook.
“It’s in the human spirit to give,” Terry said. “We want to try and help out. That’s what gets people through.”
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