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Saloma residents still trying to process December tornado, which hit farms and mental health hard

Dalton York
WKU Public Radio
Tornado damage at the Clay Hill Memorial Forest in Taylor County. The forest is owned and operated by Campbellsville University.

The deadly tornado outbreak that struck Kentucky is best remembered for its devastating impact in towns including Mayfield, Bowling Green, and Dawson Springs. Rural communities throughout the western and central parts of the commonwealth also felt the force of the storms. The tornado that struck the Taylor County town of Saloma hit acres of farmland and decimated homes along the way.

Sherri and Nevin Price were hiding in their bathroom with their son, Alex, when the tornado struck their home and tore off their roof. Although they were shocked by the initial impact, they quickly began trying to contact their neighbors to make sure everybody on their road made it through the storm.

“We got the alert on the phone. It woke us up. With what, two minutes, maybe? If it was that long, it was hitting,” Sherri Price said.

Price family.JPG
Dalton York
WKU Public Radio
Sherri and Nevin Price in their home in Saloma, Kentucky.

Saloma is a tight-knit community six miles north of Campbellsville, Kentucky. The town is driven by agriculture with houses spread throughout the sprawling farms. Saloma’s layout meant the tornado didn’t hit any densely populated areas, but it still took out dozens of homes and flattened trees for miles around. Construction crews are still working on nearly every home on the road where the Price family lives. It’s been six months since the disaster, but the residents of Saloma are still practicing triage to fix the most critically damaged parts of their properties. But when asked what the town needs the most, Sherri Price said Saloma needed the funds they thought they’d see in the initial aftermath of the tornadoes.

“None of us got anything from FEMA. We made too much money. We had insurance. If you have insurance, you’re not getting nothing from FEMA,” Price said.

Taylor County Emergency Management Director Ronnie Dooley echoed the sentiments of many tornado survivors in the area–and across the state–who say navigating the bureaucracy surrounding FEMA has been maddening.

“That is a common occurrence, I guess. FEMA is slow moving and FEMA don’t cover a lot of things that people think they should cover,” Dooley said.

Dooley said he has dealt with FEMA extensively throughout the process and during previous disasters. He said the agency’s case managers have been particularly frustrating. A caseworker could be assigned to a claim and work that claim for weeks before a new worker is assigned to the case and most of the investigation has to be completed a second or third time.

“I think it’s a lot of miscommunication as well,” Dooley explained. “But something that I can relate to as far as dealing with FEMA through the county and our claims is it’s a very slow process. It can be frustrating. It’s a lot of red tape involved.”

In a statement, FEMA Public Affairs Specialist Johanna Strickland clarified that insured homeowners are unable to receive federal assistance for damage covered by their private policies. Additionally, the agency said federal disaster aid is intended to provide short-term relief to assist with the most critical damage to a home. FEMA grants are designed to make a home safe and functional, especially for uninsured storm victims. Strickland said the federal agency provided more than $175,000 to residents of Taylor County and is still working to help meet additional needs.

“It is important to note that FEMA is just one piece of the recovery puzzle,” Strickland said. “It takes the whole community pulling together to get the job done.”

Concerns over tornado’s impact on farms, mental health 

While Saloma residents like Sherri and Nevin Price were attempting to navigate through the bureaucracy of federal disaster benefits, they had more immediate issues like the cattle spread throughout their farm that were no longer contained in a fence after the tornado struck. Taylor County Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture Patrick Hardesty said that’s a common issue among the farms that were in the tornado’s path. Six months later, residents are still working to get their farms back to the bare minimum of functionality. However, Hardesty said his primary long-term concern is the mental health of the community’s farmers.

Dalton York
WKU Public Radio
Uprooted trees at the Clay Hill Memorial Forest.

“There’s still lots of emotional things that are probably my biggest worry. How it has affected some people in recovery. And how it’s changed their lives. I worry about that,” Hardesty said.

Hardesty and the extension office staff participated in an effort to provide fencing kits to the farms in Saloma. Thousands of dollars were raised for the project that’s still ongoing. Getting the farms back to pre-tornado conditions will take years according to Hardesty. Nevin Price agreed. He said he and Sherri are still finding new problems on their farm caused by the storms. Building back is made even more difficult by inflation and the soaring costs of construction materials.

“Building supplies more than doubled. You started trying to rebuild then you can’t get no building supply. OSB board went from $18 to $48 in three weeks,” Price said.

Saloma’s place in the story of the Kentucky tornadoes is often overshadowed by the overwhelming destruction in other parts of the state, like Mayfield and Dawson Springs, but families throughout the Taylor County community are still left to pick up the pieces of their life like their neighbors from other storm-impacted towns further west. Still, survivors in Saloma are doing it without the heavy media attention and ongoing volunteer support seen in those other areas. The six months since December 10th have been the beginning of a long road to recovery for families in Saloma, who have stuck together amidst incalculable pain and suffering.

Dalton York joined WKU Public Radio in December 2021 as a reporter and host of Morning Edition. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in History from Murray State University, and was named MSU's Outstanding Senior Man for fall 2021. He previously served as a student reporter and All Things Considered host for WKMS, part of the Kentucky Public Radio network. He has won multiple Kentucky Associated Press Awards and Impact Broadcast Awards from the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. A native of Marshall County, Dalton is a proud product of his tight-knit community.