After a tornado spun through western Kentucky on Dec. 10, a U.S. Navy veteran and his wife and three sons consider themselves lucky to be alive.
Chance and Abby Oliver both shared photos of the site where their house once stood in Dawson Springs.
One shows concrete walls still standing with heaps of items piled on the basement floor as the rear of a silver SUV teeters over the corner with the driver’s side rear tire hovering above.
Below that is where 13 people took shelter as the devastating storm passed.
“First of all, I have to give thanks and praise to God almighty because it is only by his protection that my family survived,” Abby posted on Facebook.
“God definitely had his hand on us and kept us safe,” Chance posted. “We are so thankful that this is just stuff and can be replaced.”
Since then, people have shown up at their home to help pick up the pieces.
“We cannot even begin to name and thank everyone, but I want you all to know that your generosity and willingness to jump in and help has brought us to tears so many times,” Abby wrote.
“We appreciate everyone who has reached out,” Chance wrote.
The Olivers have several ties to Jackson County.
One is April Haggerty, a Medora native who lives in Seymour. Chance is the son of her aunt and uncle, Sheila and Paul Temple, who are originally from the Seymour area.
“Pictures are so scary. So sad but grateful to be alive,” Haggerty said.
Autumn Hauff, a Medora native who lives in Deputy, is Chance’s cousin. She said he spent a lot of time in Jackson County visiting his mother and still visits frequently, and most of his family still lives in or near the county.
Samantha Morran, another relative, said the family lost their home, all possessions and two vehicles, and Chance’s mother and stepfather were with them during the tornado.
“He spent summers and holidays in Jackson County growing up and continues to travel back here when he can,” Morran said. “He has a beautiful family of five who he kept protected in their basement. … They somehow are physically OK.”
Local resident Daron Fleshman said a friend in Central City, Kentucky, also lost everything from the tornadoes. The only thing left of their home is the concrete slab and foundation.
“They lost everything they have, including vehicles. They barely made it to their neighbor’s basement when it hit,” Fleshman said. “They are awesome people and the type to knock themselves to help someone else in need, except they are in need now.”
Fleshman drives a semi and delivers every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to Beaver Dam, Kentucky, which is where his friend works. His friend has been given plenty of clothes but could really use gift cards to buy what they need, Fleshman said.
“He hasn’t been able to make it back (to work) yet because of the disaster,” he said. “Gift cards or any kind of help I can get them would be awesome.”
Seymour native Shana Imlay said her home didn’t have the worst damage from the storm, but a tree uprooted from her front yard and pushed into a bedroom window while she and her husband slept. On one of the boards over a window on their home, they spray painted “Nature: 1, Us: 0.”
Cheyenne Cockerham of Seymour said her parents live in Rineyville, Kentucky, and were pretty fortunate regarding the storm.
“Although they did lose a couple shingles from their home and they lost power for 15 hours, it was minimal damage compared to just a few miles from them,” she said. “The main impact it had on them was a mental/emotional impact because it didn’t look like they were going to make it.”
When she heard about the potential for storms across the Midwest, Cockerham said she didn’t think it would be that bad. Her father, however, was extremely nervous, she said.
“He knew it would be bad, but I don’t think he even knew how extreme it would be,” she said. “When the storm was about 3 miles from my parents, my dad actually messaged me and my husband telling us how much he loved us and how proud of us he is. Then he told me that him and my mom missed us terribly. He was saying his goodbyes because it didn’t look like they were going to make it.”
Cockerham’s parents live with her brother, his girlfriend and their son.
“My brother and his girlfriend are actually sick with COVID right now and were sleeping through the storm when my dad woke them up so that they could all be together to pray and so that my brother and his girlfriend could say goodbye to their son, who my parents have been watching while they’ve been quarantining,” she said.
After the storm, Cockerham said there was a lot of debris and downed power lines and poles in her parents’ neighborhood. In a text message, her father told her he couldn’t recall seeing lightning so furious or so vividly bright.
”My dad said it looked like waterfalls were all around him from the rain that was pouring,” she said. “They were all scared, and there were outside objects and decorations that were thrown around and lost.”
Cockerham said she’s still very unsettled with how close of a call it was.
”I’m scared that they don’t have a storm shelter or a safe place to go and that this could have killed them, and God forbid if another storm like this was to occur, they might not be as lucky next time,” she said. “Ultimately, I’m grateful for the minimal physical damage they sustained and that they’re still alive and OK.”
She said she was scared to sleep and felt helpless that she couldn’t be there to help them or protect them.
“It was a horrible feeling,” she said. “I’m so glad they’re OK, and my heart truly goes out to those who weren’t as fortunate and to those who lost loved ones.”
Most of her friends and family in Kentucky are safe and had minimal damage.
”My parents are scared to go out and look at the damage, but just 3 miles from them is where the tornado went straight through,” Cockerham said. “My parents are actually in a bit of shock. I know it really alerted them to the seriousness of storms in their area, and they’re really wanting to save up for a storm shelter. They’ll also need to save up to repair their roof from the missing shingles.”
In her hometown of Bowling Green, Sarah Stair said her parents’ neighborhood was hit hard by the storm.
Stair, who has lived in the Seymour area since the fall of 2009, said her parents live in the only home they’ve ever had, which is right off of Western Kentucky University’s campus.
She also has two brothers, two sisters-in-law and a young nephew who live in the area.
“We are so thankful that their homes are OK so they are able to help take care of my parents while they are without power,” Stair said. “A lifelong friend of mine who lives within walking distance of my parents lost her home completely. She is married with a toddler.”
Like Cockerham, Stair said she was pretty unaware of the true potential of the storms.
“I happened to be up until about 2:30 Saturday morning (Dec. 11) working on a Christmas present,” she said. “I thought it was awfully windy here and raining a lot. I had no idea what my family was going through at that same time.”
After going to bed and waking up later that morning, Stair said her husband came into the room and she could tell something wasn’t OK. He had just gotten off the phone with her mom and told her what happened.
“I immediately felt sick and wanted to jump in the car and head home,” Stair said. “That has been the hardest part of all of this. My heart hurts so badly for my hometown, my friends and my family. We are so lucky, though. A number of families lost their loved ones and all of their belongings. There is a lot of damage to my childhood home; however, when I go home on Tuesday, I will get to hug every family member’s neck, and that makes us all so lucky.”
Seeing pictures of the destruction in Bowling Green was a very surreal thing, she said. She even saw her parents’ home in aerial footage.
“I had a lump in my throat from the time my husband told me what had happened until Sunday afternoon when I called to wish my dad a Happy Birthday,” she said. “I knew it was not going to be a happy birthday by any means. The minute I heard his voice, the tears flowed uncontrollably.”
Stair said she has cried off and on since then, but they don’t compare to the cry she had while on the phone with her dad.
“It is so hard to feel so helpless, to hear your mom crying every time you talk and you know there is nothing you can do, to know your friends have lost their home completely and you’re two and a half hours away living life like you would any other day,” she said.
As she heads home for Christmas, she will see all of the destruction in person.
“We all know things will be totally different, but being together will be good for the soul,” Stair said. “I am really hoping to be able to transport donations down there and help in any way that I can. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what to expect; however, I know when I get there, I will be at a total loss for words and all of the emotions will flood in.”
Stair encourages people to give monetary donations if they can.
“The community has been so thankful and lucky for any and all donations, but it has been hard to sort through it all quickly and effectively,” she said. “There is a need for baby essentials (diapers, wipes, formula, etc), new toys to be able to give families so they can still have a Christmas with their children.”
A positive out of all of this is how people have come together to help those impacted, she said.
”Through all of the hurt, heartache and destruction, it has been such a beautiful and uplifting thing to see people coming together and being the hands and feet of Christ,” Stair said.