"The footage doesn't do it justice." That's how Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) tried to explain the piles of wreckage that sit where large swaths of his district used to be. "Until you see the devastation up close and personal," he says soberly, "it's hard to comprehend." For three days, he's been back at his office working phone lines and trying to connect tornado victims with help. But the shock of what people have been through is wearing off now, and people are trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives. "But unfortunately, it's going to be a long hard process."
Like a lot of people, Comer has lived in Kentucky almost his whole life, and he's never seen anything like the storms that struck last Friday -- killing almost 100 people and leveling communities across six states. "We have tornadoes," Comer shook his head, but nothing like the strength and width of this one. "What we have in Mayfield and Dawson Springs and all these [towns] is a tornado as wide as three and a half miles. So it's taken out blocks and blocks and blocks... around these populated cities."
While rescue workers and cadaver dogs try frantically to find any remaining survivors, "the clock is ticking," Comer acknowledged. "Every second counts now." With temperatures dipping into the low 20s at night, the teams have started flying drones over the rural areas that might not have gotten attention. The real shame, Comer says, is that some of these communities -- like Mayfield -- had just finished reviving their downtown areas. "They'd just gotten all of their Christmas decorations up. It looked like a Hallmark movie..." he insisted. "Now it looks like a war zone -- like somewhere in Afghanistan or somewhere else that had just been bombed. It's heartbreaking."
For the fortunate ones who made it out alive, there's no water, power, or sewer system. Three cell phone towers were taken out. One post office is gone. In hospitals and senior centers, they're relying on generators, which, everyone knows, isn't 100-percent secure. "It's just a big series of challenges. But the people are resilient down here," Comer explained, "Everybody has a chainsaw... and everybody's helping everybody down here. That's the one bright spot in a terrible, terrible tragedy like this.... [In] rural America... people come out and roll up their sleeves. Friends help friends. Neighbors help neighbors. [It's] a very faithful population... Everyone's praying and hoping for the best."
Some answers to those prayers came in the form of Samaritan's Purse, who was on the ground as early as Saturday in Arkansas and Kentucky, ministering to hurting families. Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for the organization, says that the churches that are still standing have opened their doors to them so that volunteers and staff have a base to fan out across the community. The goal, he told "Washington Watch," is to come alongside "these families that are hurting to show them that God loves them. He's not forgotten them... A lot of families have lost everything, so let's... help them recover the precious things that cannot be replaced through an insurance check... dog tags, photo albums, things that are just special to these families." Then, we'll tarp the roof so more things don't get damaged, he explained, and start clearing out the yard.
What can people across the country do? "Well, the first thing they can do is pray. Pray that the Lord would just comfort these families, draw them closer to him during this time, especially at Christmas, where we, as Christians celebrate the birth of our savior. [And] there's no better time -- if they have the availability to sign up -- to volunteer..." Fill out the online form, Harrison explained, and when you come, Samaritan's Purse will provide food, beds, showers, and any tools or equipment -- everything is supplied, so that these teams can focus on the homeowners.
This process is going to take a long time, as ministries like this one know. "We're still helping families [from Hurricane Harvey] and that's from 2017." The media may move on, Harrison warns, but these communities still have needs. And in a tragedy like this, from a storm so powerful and so fatal, there will be plenty of work to do. If you'd like to help, either in person or with a donation, visit SamaritansPurse.org.