Saturday, March 2, 2013

A 'Tornado Chronicles' Follow-Up: West Liberty, KY - One Year Later...

This morning's chilly weather with snow flurries and temperatures in the middle and upper 20s is a far cry from the spring-like conditions that were in place around West Liberty, KY one year ago today.

While the risk of tornado development across the region was high (and very well forecast) on March 2, 2012, no one could imagine the devastation that would strike the community during the late afternoon hours of that day...

West Liberty Tornado as Photographed by Kent Nickell

The tornado struck West Liberty just before 6:00 pm EST.  The total path length was 86 miles, making it the longest tornado track in the U.S. for all of 2012, and the 2nd longest in the history of the state of Kentucky (the path length in Kentucky was approximately 60 miles).  At its widest point, the tornado stretched 1 mile across, and it killed 8 people.  The official damage survey conducted by the National Weather Service in Jackson, KY rated the tornado as an EF-3 with maximum winds estimated at 140 mph.

The West Liberty tornado went a long way toward disproving at least one tornado myth:  that the river to the West and the hilly terrain surrounding the community would protect it from a tornado.  The following video by resident Kevin Adkins clearly shows that the hills were no match for this beast:

The original, "uncut" version of the Tornado Chronicles post concerning the West Liberty tornado continues to be the most viewed article in this blog's history by a wide margin.  The post has also generated more comments, e-mails, facebook postings and other correspondence (from across the U.S. and around the world) than any other in the history of this blog.

Because of the widespread interest, I thought it would be fitting to revisit the event on this one year anniversary, and see how the recovery has progressed in the months since the disaster.

Before we jump to the present day, here are some damage photos from the days that immediately followed the event one year ago:

Crews attempt to restore power on 3-4-12

Commercial Bank on 3-3-12

Aerial view of the damage on 3-3-12

The view down Main Street on 3-2-12

Officials estimate that the tornado completely destroyed 74 commercial buildings, 19 government buildings and approximately 300 homes.  Hundreds of additional buildings and homes had significant or major damage.  The total amount of the damage is estimated at $250 million.

While still a long way from complete, much progress has been made toward recovery since the event that generated the horrific images of last year.  Here's a shot looking down Main Street today, which is in stark contrast to the last image shown above from one year ago:

Just last month, the downtown staple "Red Rooster Antiques" re-opened its doors.  Owners Eddie and Sherri Granger spent the greater part of the past year working to restore or replace the brick walls, black wood floors, and the original tin roof of the structure, which brought back at least one piece of normalcy to the streets of downtown West Liberty.

The owner of what used to be the floral shop next door decided to retire rather than to rebuild - a decision that several downtown "long timers" also made over the course of the past year.

As the saying goes, "when one door closes another one opens..." and that's exactly what resident Julie Lane had in mind when she opened the doors of West Liberty's brand new floral shop "The Paisley Posey" just last week:

Paul and Janet Franklin, owners of the 55 year old local burger institution "Freezer Fresh" struggled with the rebuilding question for a short while, but ultimately they knew that starting over again was the right thing to do for themselves and the community.  Freezer Fresh re-opened back in September, and the best burgers in town are now being served up once again.  The wait was reportedly 2.5 hours long on opening day:

Meanwhile, the signs of a continued recovery "work in progress" are all around town.  The historic Morgan County Courthouse is in the process of being renovated:

...and a mixture of other "before and after" projects lines the streets:

State officials recently announced that nearly $30 million in new financial aid is on the way to the community (albeit one year later), and plans are in place to use those funds to rebuild public/community facilities and infrastructure.  

Projects slated to use some of those funds include a new $9.4 million youth recreation and wellness center as well as a $6 million renovation of the Morgan County Office Building and Community Center.  The old courthouse will receive $2.4 million toward renovation, and a new Cooperative Extension Office and municipal parking garage are planned at a cost of approximately $6 million.

New homes have also sprung up over the last year, as a result of the efforts of the Habitat for Humanity and other agencies that have come in to help rebuild:

The West Liberty Elementary School was destroyed by the tornado, and classes will continue to be held in a refurbished warehouse while a new, permanent building is constructed:

Shortly after the temporary school opened last year, the kids had a visit from none other than the Chick-fil-A cow, who tried to make the sudden change in surroundings just a little bit easier for them:

Long time residents say that in many ways, life in West Liberty will never be the same again, which is certainly understandable.  Indeed, no one ever promised that a full recovery was going to happen overnight, but overall the community is pulling together and they are making steady progress every day.

If you would like to help the folks in West Liberty with their continued recovery efforts, please visit the following websites for additional information and resources:

For more information from 'The Original Weather Blog', including shorter, more frequent posts during rapidly changing weather events, please be sure to follow me on facebook and twitter:

Coming March 2013:  "The Tornado Chronicles" full website!
 Interactive tornado database back to 1950 (earlier years coming soon)
• Interactive radar with live warnings and street-level zoom
• Tornado safety, preparedness and education
• Daily tornado/severe weather outlook
• Photos, videos and more!

Please show your support and follow The Tornado Chronicles on twitter and on facebook for the latest updates on tornadoes and the upcoming website!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

best wishes to all and happy one year!