Story by Paul T. Choate
March 16, 2012. WEST LIBERTY, KY. — On March 2, 2012, at around 6:45 p.m. the unimaginable happened to a small town in northeastern Kentucky. West Liberty, Ky. was hit by a tornado that all but destroyed the town. It might seem strange for the High Country Press to cover a story so far away, but a local Blowing Rock family has strong ties to this devastated community.
On Thursday, March 8, Lonnie and Ada Webster made the 225 mile drive to West Liberty to check on family members, see for themselves what damage the tornado had done and in Mr. Webster’s case, to document the event. Mrs. Webster is from West Liberty and still has family in the town, including her brother Timothy Holbrook, who is in charge of debris removal.
“I don’t think I have ever seen damage to that extent,” said Mrs. Webster. “We started seeing the damage in Salyersville [Ky.] right off the Mountain Parkway. Then we went from Salyersville to West Liberty, which is about 20 miles, and when you got on the edge of town you began seeing things that you knew as a restaurant or a business and it was flat to the ground. There were brick homes — homes of classmates I had grown up with — with the roofs off them.”
“Your mind will not let you imagine something like this, and even when you’re seeing it it’s like it can’t be real,” said Mr. Webster.
“As you went on through town it just kept getting worse, in my opinion,” said Mrs. Webster. “It was just total destruction.”
Mrs. Webster’s brother was one of the few fortunate ones. His home received only minor damage. Most others, however, were not so lucky.
Documentary (1 of 2) by Lonnie Webster
Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse was also in West Liberty providing relief efforts shortly after the disaster.
“The tornado struck around 6:45 that Friday evening, and we met early Saturday morning surveying the damage, around 7 o’clock,” said Brent Graybeal, program manager for Samaritan’s Purse relief efforts in West Liberty. “Out of that meeting, we sent two teams to Indiana and the team that I led to Kentucky. We were in the town by 2:30 p.m. that Saturday.”
Samaritan’s Purse stayed in West Liberty from March 3 to March 14 providing relief efforts. Graybeal said of 28 work orders they received, they had completed 21. 7 were completed by others in the community. In all, Samaritan’s Purse had 463 volunteers in West Liberty who came from all over the region to help.
“We saw a lot of damage, but the people there are very strong,” said Graybeal. “Samaritan’s Purse was happy we could be there.”
Documentary (2 of 2) by Lonnie Webster
Mr. Webster said he estimates that it will take about three years, at the least, for the town to recover to a point where it resembles the place it once was.
With regard to the consensus feelings of the community members, Mr. Webster said, “I think there’s a combination of fighting the depression that comes with their past missing — all their constants suddenly being gone, their point of reference missing — and being thankful that they weren’t hurt and that more people weren’t hurt. So there’s this gratitude that they’re alive.”
According to Kentucky.com, 20 people were killed in West Liberty by the tornado.
For a West Liberty home’s security camera video of the storm’s destruction, click here.
Photo Gallery by Lonnie Webster
Click on first image and then use the arrow key to flip through the gallery
(gallery includes multiple pages)