‘I am a grateful tornado survivor’: Tornado victims reflect on recovery one year later

This story originally appeared in the newest issue of the Herald, “The Climate Issue” published on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.


Tucker Covey

Lilly Riherd stands in the construction of her Bowling Green home that was hit by the tornado in 2021 on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

Over a year after the deadly EF-3 tornado hit Bowling Green, Ky. members of the community are still recovering from and feeling the effects of the damage.

The deadly tornado claimed 17 lives in Warren County. Those who survived the tornado are still facing the effects. Lilly Riherd is one such survivor.

On the night of the tornado, Ri- herd, her son, her son-in-law and her grandson sheltered in her cellar. While they sheltered in assumed safety, the door to the cellar was sucked open by the tornado, as they could all hear glass shattering in the home above them.

Riherd and her family had moved most of their valuables to the garage already, and were able to sleep in some of the better areas of the house that night. In the morning, “people were just com- ing over voluntarily with chainsaws, with stuff, just doing anything that they can do,” she said.

That Sunday, 40 people were at her house helping her remove the tree that had fallen on it and retrieving salvage- able belongings. In the following days, Riherd was able to reach her insurance company and they were able to set her up in a hotel room.

Riherd was denied Federal Emergency Management Agency support due to insurance but had an overall positive experience with her insurance company. After natural disasters strike an area, FEMA will enter the space and try to provide support.

Individuals qualify for FEMA assistance if they are uninsured or underinsured, or need immediate emergency housing.

“The insurance lady says ‘hey, I’m gonna send you X amount of dollars, I know you probably need clothing, you need to do this’ for that first month I was out of sorts,” Riherd said.

She wanted to repair her “Lillypad” [her home] but during the repair and renovation process, the house continued to take damage until it was unsustainable, and she needed to start from scratch. People in her life and from around the community have been helping with this process since the very beginning.

“I was just kind of in awe of the response of everyone in the community – and I can guarantee you when I go and say, ‘hey, it’s time to move in,’ I’ll have a multitude of people come and say, ‘let’s do it,’” Riherd said.

Many survivors of the tornado find themselves living in gratitude now. Angie Link is one such survivor.

“You know, you just have to sit back and be thankful,” Link said on being a survivor. “I mean, I was always thankful for the life I was living or the life I thought I was living, but post-tornado, you really have to be thankful and thank the Lord.”

Link and her husband, Leon, were both home when the tornado struck and sheltered in the hallway bathroom for safety. The tornado tore apart their home, but neither one of them was seriously injured. They were able to get to their neighbor’s house for safety, as did multiple of the other people in their cul-de-sac.

Link, and many others, received help and support from the Bowling Green community.

“The community has been really fantastic,” she said.

Link described the help she received.

“Organizations have been really nice,” Link said. “Emotional support, you know. Yes, it’s been very helpful.”

She may have had the community’s help and assistance from her insurance company, but Link and her husband were denied FEMA support.

“We got turned down three times,” Link said. “Two times we were turned down because someone had fraudulently used our names and address and fraudulently applied for FEMA.”

They were deemed ineligible for FEMA support because they had insurance.

Despite the hardships and complete rebuild of her house have not brought Link completely down.

“I am a grateful tornado survivor,” she said.

Cort Basham in front of his reconstructed Bowling Green, Ky. home on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Basham and his wife Laurie nearly lost their entire home to the tornado that tore through Warren County in 2021. (Tucker Covey)

Cort Basham and his family were able to move back into their house in December 2022.

In the morning hours of Dec. 11 Basham, his wife, Laurie, their two children, Simon and Naomi, and their dog, Teddy, were all at home. The family unit sheltered together in a closet, until a tree came crashing in, ruining their safe shelter location.

Basham and his family knew they couldn’t stay in a home with a hole in the roof safely – so they decided to risk making a run for it. All four of them and the dog were able to make it safely to his brother-in-law’s house up the street from them.

After Basham realized he and his family were stuck in an awful situation, he knew they had decisions they needed to make.

“You have two minutes to make decisions and none of them are good,” he said.

Basham’s son was able to find a way out of the house, which was struck by a total of five trees, and together they crossed over debris and down poWer lines to get to safety. Their house sustained major damage and has gone through numerous repairs for it to be livable again.

The Basham family was assisted by the community and friends in the coming days.

“From the first minute everyone was super helpful,” Basham said.

The morning after the tornado, the Basham family returned to their home to find neighbors and friends helping remove debris from their house and cutting up the trees so they could be removed.

Despite all the help, the road to recovery has not been completely smooth sailing.

“The kids didn’t come [to the house] until April,” Basham said.

Basham and his wife sat the kids down and discussed whether they felt

comfortable even moving back into the house. As a family, they decided that moving back to the neighborhood and house they had grown so close to was best.

Throughout the process, Basham has learned even more about how to live through gratitude.

When aspects of the rebuilding and recovery process got hard, he said, “It was just easier to stay in the mindset of, you know, we may not all be here to do it together, so I just didn’t get super frustrated with timelines and that kind of stuff.”

The Bowling Green community rallied together around the survivors of the tornado and provided them with the support and help they needed in a time of strife.

On all of the support and everything he has seen in the world, Basham said, “I still believe in humans, we can do it.”

Content editor B Turner can be reached at [email protected].