Milton leaders describe the aftermath of the EF-2 tornado as cleanup begins

By | March 16, 2024

MILTON ― Fog still hung over the city on the banks of the Ohio River, a common occurrence this time of year.

Government of Kentucky Andy Beshear still stood among the rubble in a downtown Milton parking lot Saturday morning, shaking hands with emergency leaders, judges and first responders from three counties as he checked in with their crews.

But one block away and out of sight of a group following the governor as he toured the city two days after a tornado ripped through, excavation equipment began picking up the damage.

Beshear declared a state of emergency for Trimble County, as well as Gallatin and Carroll counties, following the tornado that struck the area Thursday around 3 p.m. Initial estimates indicate that 85 structures have been destroyed in Trimble County alone, but only two people have been treated for minor injuries.

“We can fix buildings,” Beshear said. “We cannot replace people.”

Several members of the group nodded.

“If this had occurred three hours later, we would have had more people in homes and the situation probably would have been very different,” Trimble County Judge John Ogburn told The Courier Journal. “We were blessed that it hit when it hit.”

Milton Mayor Denny Jackson called his city “tough old birds.”

“They just pull themselves up by the oars and keep going,” he said. “They don’t let anything hold them back.”

A National Weather Service investigation in Louisville found that a single 17.5-mile-long EF-2 tornado with peak winds of 115 mph was responsible for damage in Hanover, Indiana and Milton.

“The tornado was on the ground for 22 minutes when it touched down one mile north of Hanover, Indiana, and lifted off in Switzerland County, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Carrollton, Kentucky,” the report said. “This tornado crossed the Ohio River twice, including a few miles parallel to the river when the southern edge of the funnel damaged Milton, Kentucky. The maximum path width was up to 500 yards wide.”

The agency initially believed an EF-1 tornado had touched down in the area, but spent most of Friday assessing damage before making a final determination in the evening.

This is not the first time a tornado has hit the town of fewer than 700 residents. In April 1974, Milton was also hit by the second largest tornado super outbreak in US history, thanks to a devastating tornado that destroyed approximately 90% of nearby Hanover, Indiana, killing 11 people and injuring hundreds hit.

In 2012, a tornado that passed through Henryville also struck Milton. An EF-0 tornado with a path nearly identical to Thursday’s EF-2 also struck the city in 2018.

“Homes that were hit by the EF-0 were not hit this time,” Stark said. “And houses that weren’t hit in EF-0 were hit this time.”

Andrew Stark, director of Trimble County Emergency Management, said Thursday’s tornado came quickly.

“We had just gotten the severe thunderstorm warning and probably 15 minutes later we got the tornado warning,” he said. “It happened so quickly that we didn’t know we were involved until we got reports.”

The Bedford Fire Department attempted to respond via Highway 421, the main road leading into downtown, but the road was covered in tree debris. It took them about 20 minutes to drive less than a mile down the road.

“We intervened when we were coming,” said Bedford Fire Chief Will McCoy. “We couldn’t drive on the road.”

Stark, who has held the position since 2015, activated the county’s emergency plan and requested assistance from departments in surrounding counties. Fire departments from Henry, Oldham and Carroll counties, as well as a drone team, responded Thursday to provide support. Emergency management teams from a dozen counties statewide joined the damage assessment efforts Friday.

More: They survived the tornado that leveled the Mayfield candle factory. That was just the beginning

“The wind was so strong there was glass in the wall.”

When Shelby Jones looked at the hole in her bathroom ceiling, insulation rained down on her.

The windows in her kitchen, living room and her sons’ bedrooms were gone.

“The wind was so strong there was glass in the wall,” she said.

When she received the warning, she, like Stark, thought Milton was unaffected.

“I didn’t even think I was going to come home with anything, but I stopped and I started seeing my neighbors’ houses,” she said. ‘Our house ended up being worse than all the others,’

She is grateful that her four boys were in school or daycare and that she was substitute teaching in Carroll County when tragedy struck. She is pregnant with the fifth of the family.

“It’s finally a girl,” four-year-old Miles exclaimed as he reached for his mother’s belly.

His brothers, 9-year-old Ruben and 7-year-old Atlas, ran with him up the steps of the conference center at General Butler State Resort Park, which opened its doors to more than 100 people, including at least 37 children and eight dogs, who were without power or whose homes were destroyed during the store.

When Governor Beshear met with families at the lodge on Saturday, some found their power had returned and began checking out.

“It’s heartening that we were able to do this and help these people with the damage that was done to their homes,” said Christy Combs, regional administrator of Kentucky State Parks.

For Jones and her children, however, their home is unlivable. She’s not sure what she’s going to do.

“My landlord says the damage is quite extensive,” she said. “We may not be able to live there during the repairs.”

Stephanie Kuzydym is a business and investigative journalist, with a focus on health and safety. She can be reached at skuzydym@courier-journal.com. Follow her up @stephkuzy.

This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: Tornadoes in KY: Beshear tours damage after EF-2 tornado in Milton

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