11 fatalities, 500 homes and 100 business destroyed by Warren County tornado

A+group+of+community+members+work+together+to+remove+debris+after+tornadoes+and+sever+weather+swept+through+Bowling+Green%2C+KY+on+Dec.+11.

Megan Fisher

A group of community members work together to remove debris after tornadoes and sever weather swept through Bowling Green, KY on Dec. 11.

Michael Dylan Payne, News reporter

A tornado slammed into Bowling Green resulting in the death of 11 people, according to the Bowling Green Coroner.

The EF-3 tornado had sustained winds of 150 mph causing catastrophic damage to the community, according to the National Weather Service. 

Last night and early this morning, four tornadoes are believed to have touched down across the state, including one that was on the ground for 227 miles, according to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. 

Beshear gave an update this afternoon on the situation in Bowling Green, alongside officials in Warren County announcing key updates including the signing of an emergency declaration by President Biden.

In addition to the emergency declaration, the state has set up a single-fund that is solely dedicated to helping on the ground and contributing to relief efforts for those affected, according to Beshear. 

Individuals who want to help are also encouraged to give blood, the supply of which has been affected by COVID-19, on top of this disaster, Beshear said.

“There was four different tornados that hit us, including one that touched down in Arkansas and then stayed on the ground for 227 straight miles,” Beshear said.  “Folks, 200 miles of those were in Kentucky.”

Before midnight last night, Beshear signed into action a state of emergency which allowed the mobilization of the National Guard, along with mobilizing other agencies in Kentucky including the State Police, the Forestry Department, and the Transportation Cabinet.

“On day one of this disaster response, we’ve been in three cities,” Beshear said.  “We’ve been hit hard, harder than we ever have–harder than anyone ever has–but we’ll also get back up.  It’s what we do and Kentuckians. We are resilient, strong people, and I know that’s exactly what you’re going to do in Warren County.”

Judge-Executive Mike Buchannon said around 500 houses and 100 businesses have been destroyed by this storm, a realization that will make this the most costly natural disaster to happen in Warren County.

“We don’t have a monetary value at this point, but you can do the math,” Buchanan said. “If there are 500 homes times $250,000 plus, and 100 businesses as half a million, it will be the biggest loss we’ve ever seen in this county.”

As for people who want to see the damage, Buchanan says if you are safe, stay at home.

As of now, a total of 28,000 people are without electricity in Warren County and will likely be without electricity tonight, Buchannon said.

“The more you stay on the road and keep traffic bogged up in the areas where there’s damage, the slower it’s going to be for BGMU and Warren Rural Electric to get your electricity back on,” Buchanan said.  “You’re actually being pretty selfish by going out there and spending all that time.”

In the midst of the chaos, Buchanan says those who survived should be thankful. 

“Please remember a lot of people are a lot less lucky than we are,” Buchanan said.  “There are people who are absolutely devastated tonight.”

Beverly Lewis, 82, has lived in the Bowling Green community for 34 years.Last night, her home on Smith Way was damaged in the tornado. 

“You can see the devastation,” Lewis said. “I had a huge tree that was on my roof, and my wonderful church family is assisting in cleaning it up.” 

Lewis lives alone and was home when the tornado ripped through the community. 

“I am safe and I thank God for that,” Lewis said. “I have my little hiding place, an interior hall closet, and that’s where I go.”

Lewis’ home had only minor damages, but many of her neighbors were not so fortunate. 

The damage survey by the Herald revealed many Smith Way homes had roofs ripped off, massive trees on top of cars and homes, and power lines hanging over the road. 

There are currently crews of volunteers and utility workers working on Smith Way to remove debris from people’s yards, roofs, and homes. 

Additionally, emergency shelters are being set up at South Warren High School for those without heat or without a home.

Individuals who are in need of shelter should call 9-1-1 and tell the operator that you need to get to South Warren, someone will help you, according to Todd Alcott, mayor of Bowling Green. 

Individuals who would like to donate to the state fund can process their donation at teamwkyrelieffund.ky.gov. 

People should call 270-393-4116 to report a gas leak, non-emergency issues, and missing persons. 

Michael Dylan Payne can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mdpayne_.