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Kentuckians begin slow process of rebuilding homes and lives after tornado destruction

Rhonda J. Miller

In the aftermath of the recent tornadoes that reduced many Kentucky neighborhoods to rubble, residents are beginning the step-by-step process of rebuilding their homes and their lives.

Warren County resident Jennifer Franklin, who has begun moving forward, is among hundreds across the state figuring out how and where to start.

Many federal and state agencies, nonprofits and community groups are providing recovery assistance to Kentuckians.

Franklin stood among debris in front of her tornado ravaged home on Stonebridge Lane in Warren County, a community where many homes were flattened or damaged.  

Franklin said the location is convenient for her job as an assistant manager at a nearby Sonic restaurant.

She said it’s also central for her other work, activity that she loves, as an official for youth and high school sports. She’s an umpire for softball and a referee for football and basketball. 

Credit Rhonda J. Miller
Inside Jennifer Franklin's house in Warren County, Kentucky she found furniture and belongings tossed about by the tornado.

“I lived here, I wanna say it was either 18 years or 20 years. I paid off the house last December. So it’s paid for,” said Franklin, with a laugh tinged with a lingering sense of  surprise at this totally unexpected turn in her life.

Just about 10 minutes after the tornado struck her house, she got out and went to a neighbor's home, then to a shelter for the night.

She thought only the windows of her house had been blown out. But when two Warren County sheriff's deputies accompanied her to the house the next morning to get her insulin, she saw the destruction in daylight.  

"I think I was in a little bit of shock when I first saw the house," said Franklin. "I don't know that it's really hit me how close I really  came to death." 

But now what? All that's left of her paid-for home is broken walls, furniture tossed about in random angles inside, and a lof of rubble. 

"My plan is to rebuild here,” Franklin said. 

A group of volunteers from Lehman Avenue Church of Christstopped in front of Franklin’s house offering food, coffee and supplies. One of the volunteers, David Chang, said they’re collecting information that will go to the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief fund.

Credit Rhonda J. Miller
Jennifer Franklin plans to rebuild on the spot where her tornado damaged house stands now.

“We're having people fill out forms so that we can follow-up with them in the coming month or so," said Chang. "That's so they can get long-term help.”

Chang said that disaster relief fund may be able provide assistance for needs like appliances, once people have a house to live in and are resettled.  

Franklin said her insurance company has declared her home a total loss and now she has to begin hiring contractors.  For now, she’s staying with a friend, and hopes to find an apartment where she can live during the rebuilding.

Franklin is facing that long rebuilding process with hundreds of others across Kentucky whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the recent tornadoes. 

A wide range of assistance is being offered by United Way of Southern Kentucky, said spokesperson Elizabeth Newbould.

“We’re really working with community leaders and nonprofits to see how the needs are changing and adapting, and how we can continue to meet those needs in the months to come,” said Newbold.

Another source of assistance is the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, set up by Gov. Andy Beshear. 

Kentuckians can also apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which has set up offices in counties impacted by the tornadoes. 

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