In Kentucky, tornado survivors find shelter and hope at church center

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WINGO, Ky., Dec 14 (Reuters) - Mayfield, Kentucky, resident Melinda Gouin is counting herself lucky, even after a huge tree ripped from the ground by tornadoes destroyed her home.

Gouin was hospitalized when the tornadoes struck on Friday. A day later when she was released from the hospital, she found shelter at the Way Community Center in Wingo, about 10 miles (16 km) south of Mayfield, which has sheltered a steady stream of tornado survivors.

The deadly string of twisters killed at least 74 people in Kentucky and at least 14 elsewhere. read more

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Gouin said she feared she would awake to "hearing people screaming and babies crying and dogs barking."

Instead, she said on Tuesday that she woke up to a man yelling - about "the word of God ... about how much he has this in his hands.

"That's a wonderful thing to wake up to, and I'm right here in front of it. I got the front-row seat. I got lucky," Gouin said.

Like many others, she is struggling with not just the loss of her home but the loss of the town she calls home.

"You know, in like three minutes you walk outside, your town doesn't even look like a town anymore," she said of hard-hit Mayfield, a western Kentucky community of about 10,000 people.

A general view of a makeshift shelter which houses people who lost their homes after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states, in Wingo, Kentucky, U.S., December 13, 2021. REUTERS/Cheney Orr/File Photo

"As stupid as that might sound, some of those buildings, they ... they carry your story, they carry your memories, and they're on the ground. You know, there's nothing left of them. It's heartbreaking to see that."

The Way Community Center, where rows of cots and mattresses on the floor lined a room and children played on the floor of the church shelter, is just one site housing tornado survivors. More than 300 people in Kentucky, as well as in Arkansas and Tennessee, were being housed in Red Cross shelters, and hundreds more have been placed temporarily in resorts at area state parks, according to the Kentucky Red Cross.

Some tornado survivors are grateful for any help - including from others who suffered great losses.

Tommy Lynn Jackson, another Mayfield resident at the Way Community Center, said: "I didn't have anything, and they gave us clothes, a new blanket, and the nice lady over there, her husband had passed, but he was a blessing because he left me a blessing because his pants are my size."

Linda Erickson, who lived in the Eloise Fuller Apartments for Seniors in downtown Mayfield, which were destroyed, said she is grateful to God.

"And if it wasn't for the Lord God, I would be dead," Erickson said. "He gets me through like waking up all angry this morning, saying: 'Where am I again?' And I don't know. But he gets me through all that, you know?"

Another resident of the Eloise Fuller Apartments, Ray McReynolds, sitting in his wheelchair, spoke simply of what he lost and what he needs.

"The worst thing we need right now is, we need money," McReynolds said. "We don't have no place to live, and we don't have the money to rent another place. So, what we need right now is ... is ... is money to help us."

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Reporting by Aleksandra Michalska and Alan Devall; Writing by Leslie Adler; Editing by Peter Cooney

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