First I want to say thanks to some people.
I had tons of co-workers and friends who checked in on my and left me messages of encouragement.
My Church who covered me with prayer.
A huge thanks to my wonderful wife keeping things running in Ohio while I was in Kentucky helping do what I could. I love you bunches.
My son who missed his daddy terribly, but understood that sometimes helping people means sacrifice to you.
And my Kentucky family. My parents, sister and mamow and rest of my family. They have so little time to see me and allowed me to devote so much time to the people of the area…most of whom they don’t even know.
Finally, to the Deputies, fire fighters, EMS, and Emergency Management staff in the affected areas, you are a true inspiration. I’ve always said you are heroes, but the sacrifices you made (and continue to make) go beyond words. I’ve often said it but it bears repeating You guys are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain that it’s not nearly enough.
OK, on with the show. 🙂
On Friday March 2, 2012 at around 6 PM, a tornado started ripping through Menifee County, making it’s way through West Liberty in Morgan County, Salyersville in Magoffin County among other places. It was on the ground for around 75 miles and did major damage. In Menifee County alone, over 50 residences were impacted at the estimated cost of over one million dollars. Some of these people were too poor for insurance. Some people had only minor damage. Some lost everything. Even though the three counties have a combined population of just under 34,000 people, only 16 people lost their lives (3 in Menifee, 12 in Morgan, and 1 in Magoffin). While that number itself is tragic, it could have been MUCH worse.
Since I’m from Menifee County, it was had to sit in Huber Heights, OH and know that people from my hometown were fighting for their lives. It’s a helpless feeling. As I heard the reports trickle in via WKYT, then heard the report of West Liberty being “complete devastation”. Once I confirmed that my family were all OK, I had to make the decision. I decided to go.
So on Saturday March 3, I headed for Kentucky. I had taken some FEMA courses on disaster area and Incident Command, but had no idea what I would really be facing. I spent Saturday with my family and we surveyed the damage, at least what we were allowed to see. Then I attended church and had lunch on Sunday. But I HAD to help “my guys”. I talked with Sheriff Coffey of the Menifee County Sheriff’s Office. That’s when I got in a MCSO cruiser. I must say that since I really began my ministry to officers and firefighters back in 2008, I had been looking to help out Menifee County guys, so I was really glad I got this opportunity. From 3 PM-6 PM I rode along and helped make deliveries, and patrol the hardest hit areas of Menifee County, the areas that most people are still not allowed into yet. From 6-8 I helped out at the Menifee County Emergency Operations Center, than back on patrol from 8 PM to 4 AM.
I want to take a side note and say that those Deputies are just amazing. To drive those roads with cars that are close to being worn out. To work every day with their nearest back up 45 minutes away. To try to fix your own patrol car to save the county money and ensure your own safety. Applying for grant after grant after grant to equip your staff as best as you can. I have to say, if I ever hand-picked a police department, I know where I’d get some great officers.
Monday I was with a deputy from the Scott County Sheriff’s Office who volunteered to work in the area. We helped deliver food and needed supplies to residents who were unable to leave, and to the large number of electric workers in the area. After getting done there, I drove to Ezel to check on one of the fire departments in the area. For seeing what they had seen, they were doing surprisingly well. It was then I was asked if I wanted to go to West Liberty. I’m not going to lie, I had to think for a minute or two. I didn’t know how I would react at the sight of the devastation. We weren’t even real sure if they could get me into the town since it was being completely blocked off by the Kentucky State Police. But I could not say no, since I have crews who were having to still work in the midst of the destruction.
I prayed the entire way down there. I started with the EMS and fire crews in town and talked with them. At this point, I felt more confident than ever that West Liberty would not only rise from the rubble, but it would be better. It will take time, but these guys were dedicated. The spirit of the town was unbreakable. It pained me to see the town I know in rubble, but it is in great hands. I was able to talk to Chief Hensley for a few moments, and pledged to help in any way I could. They have my Cell number and said they could call me anytime. On my way back I stopped at the Menifee EOC and advised of the WLPD and MCSO status.
I spent the entire day Tuesday manning the phones at the Menifee County EOC. I was amazed at the outpouring of aid and labor from across the state, and even as far away as Charleston, West Virginia! But even more amazing was the dedication of the Menifee County Fire District. These guys are 100% volunteers. They would work, come in and do whatever needed to be done, and maybe get an hour or two of sleep before doing it again. What a crew! I can not say enough about these guys. Amazing.
Wednesday I went to Salyersville, in Magoffin County. Menifee and Morgan County were declared natural disasters by the President, but seems that Magoffin County was not. So I made the 60 mile drive to Salyersville. There was just as much devastation here as in West Liberty. Also the same was the spirit to fight through this. Band together and be stronger. I talked at length with the Salyersville Fire Chief, a Salyersville Police Department Officer, and the Chief Deputy for the Magoffin County Sheriff’s Office. The resolution that they had in the face of the disaster was inspiring. I gave them my information and advised that I would have folks checking in on them to see if their departments needed anything. (At this point I also want to say that I have some great “Facebook Friends” who wanted to partner up with these agencies.) I returned to the Menifee EOC and updated the EOC and Sheriff Coffey. Then on Thursday I left to come back to Huber Heights.
Sometimes I had been teased about coming from Eastern Kentucky, and I think I’ve heard every “hillbilly joke” there is. But I’d stack these guys against anybody. I can honestly say I’ve never been more proud of “where I come from”.
On a more reflective note, there’s a quote by author Joseph Campbell, and it goes like this: “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” I found this to be true in more ways than one. I’ve seen people who by most standards are “poor” who were so giving to others, that it was touching. People helping out in spite of pain, worry and fear. Sometimes we forget how minor problems at home or work really are until we see how bad something could be.
I know this was rather long, but it was therapeutic for me. Then there’s another reason. Dr. Greg Williamson shared a story in a class that I took that I never really forgot (seems he likes U2).
Shortly after the 1985 Live Aid concert, which raised more than $200 million for food aid to Africa, Bono and his wife, Ali, visited Ethiopia. They saw how quickly even $200 million in aid was depleted.
“We promised that we would never forget what we had been through,” he said in a recent speech. “But of course, we did.”
I write to never forget. I write so people will know that the greatest people aren’t athletes, American Idol winners, or movie stars. It’s the people who give so freely, and most aren’t even paid to do it. I write to always remember the sacrifices that some of the greatest people I have ever met made that day, and make everyday of their lives.