Holiday Horror: Photographer covers hometown twister | national

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a story written by Brynne Anderson, an Associated Press photographer who took numerous photos of the December 10 tornadoes in Mayfield and her hometown of Bowling Green, Ky.

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) – I’ve been home to Western Kentucky for vacation more times than I can count. It doesn’t matter which direction I’m from, it’s always the same: long stretches of highway that lead to a place I’ve known since I was little. But not this year. Everything is different after a tornado tears apart a hometown full of happy memories of friends and family reunions. The tornado was part of an unusual swarm of deadly storms in mid-December that wiped out entire communities in the South and Midwest, killing 90 in five states, including 16 in Bowling Green. My aunt and cousin, instead of exuding their usual vacation excitement, recount the fear they felt as the tornado sirens howled and saw a huge black cloud approaching. The devastation is visible everywhere: the religious shrines where the faithful would have gathered for the services of the Christmas Eve are separated. Piles of broken pines and broken wood hide holiday decorations, but somehow a decorated Christmas tree still stands inside a brick house that has no roof. About 130 miles away, in hard-hit Mayfield, a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary, hands clasped in peaceful joy, stands above another courtyard littered with mangled plywood. Nearby, an empty hole in a wall marks the spot where the cinema screen used to be. When I was little, my mother and I lived in a mobile home a few miles from the heart of Bowling Green. One year, maybe when I was about 6, she frantically packed me into our car and started driving after a tornado siren started blaring. I remember she tucked me in behind the driver’s seat after we got off the road. I felt the car shake and heard the wind blow away debris as I held my hands above my head. Mom was scared, and it wasn’t like her. We both survived that day. But now those memories wash over me as I see the damage that another tornado fight brought to Kentucky. I’m a professional – I’ve covered a lot of other tornadoes as a photographer with The Associated Press. But I still can’t believe it happened here. At home. I wasn’t sure what to expect during the five hour drive to Bowling Green from Atlanta, where I now live with my family. Things seemed normal, and then they weren’t. The lights are on in some places, but it is dark in others where neither the power generation crews nor the generators have arrived. The rain hits the windshield, but each regular sweep of the wipers reveals a city shattered and full of debris. The smell after a tornado is overwhelming: the sap of broken trees and natural gas spat into the air through the fractured lines blend into a strange and characteristic scent. It’s no different this time. It’s easier to walk than drive in the hardest hit areas, but my feet sink into the wet mud as I walk down the ring road, near businesses that I remember from my childhood and years in the city. student at Western Kentucky University. Firehouse Pizza has been destroyed and the sign now hangs just above the ground. What was once Judy’s Castle, a restaurant we ate often, is missing at least one wall, and the Cardinal Motel next door is gone: the only recognizable thing that remains is a large statue of a red bird. Oddly, not far away is the Great American Donut Shop – everyone calls it “Gads” – is fine and open for business. The remaining part of a plastic sign that was blown apart carries a message for the Bowling Green community: “BG Strong. Over a pedestrian bridge that’s a popular spot for family photos and date night, fog lifts between the banks of the Barren River, one of which is littered with damaged homes and the other relatively intact. Hope both sides are alright the next time I come home. My family is safe, and I am grateful. While my loved ones are wrapping gifts for their children, others nearby are wrapping their roofs in plastic and tarpaulin in hopes of avoiding damage from the next rainstorm to hit the city. While I can document what happened, I cannot explain it. My youngest cousin believes she can, however. “We were protected by God for sure,” she said.

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