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Beshear sees tornado damage in Bowling Green, praises quick promise of help from federal government

Becca Schimmel

Gov. Andy Beshear says it’s been an historic weekend for Kentucky—for all the wrong reasons.

“This is the hardest tornado event we’ve ever been through, and it’s not just because of the property damage, but we’ve lost a lot of good people,” Beshear said at a Saturday afternoon news conference in Bowling Green. “And we got to do our best as it gets dark and through the next days to make sure we don’t lose any more.”

Beshear says the series of tornadoes that moved through a more than 200-mile swatch of Kentucky will likely result in more than 100 deaths, and countless destroyed businesses, homes, and other buildings.

At least 11 deaths in Warren County have been confirmed by coroner Kevin Kirby, who said that number could rise as more victims are found under debris.

Warren County Judge Executive Mike Buchanon said he’s been told by emergency management officials that about 500 local homes and 100 businesses have been destroyed by the storm.

Buchanon praised the efforts of first responders, saying that firefighters had to put out a fire along the roof of the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant around 1 a.m. Saturday, while the storm was raging.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordon said the combination of warm air during the cold season in the middle of the night amounted to a “worst-case scenario.”

“This sickens me to see what’s happened. Look at the pictures on your screens. Homes totally impaled. Two by fours through cars. Eighteen-wheelers thrown 30 feet. That takes a lot of face. We had a EF-3 tornado in the Bowling Green area...155 mile per hour winds.”

Gov. Beshear grew emotional at one point during his Warren County appearance when asked about what the day has been like for him. He came to Bowling Green from his hometown of Dawson Springs, which has also seen massive devastation from a tornado.

“It’s really hard, and really painful,” Beshear said, fighting back tears. “I spent eight hours wondering if one of my cousins will still alive. After initially hearing about all of the people lost in Dawson Springs I got to see her, about an hour and a half ago.”

The Governor said those wanting to help individuals and families who are suffering should stay off the roads in order to let first responders get to where they need to go. He also asked for blood donations, and contributions to the newly-established Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.

Beshear praised the quick response of President Joe Biden in signing an emergency declaration for storm-damaged parts of Kentucky. The move will open up federal funding to assist local communities with rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts.

Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott said emergency shelters have been set up in parts of the city, including South Warren Middle School. Buses are transporting families from Jennings Creek Elementary to South Warren Middle. A spokesperson for Warren County Public Schools said in an email that tarps and laundry baskets are needed at Jennings Creek Elementary to “help families cover and transport their belongings.”

Warren County Public Schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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