Magoffin County: 'Life is never going to be the same for us'

jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 3, 2012 

SALYERSVILLE — When the weatherman told Magoffin County residents to get to a safe place because a tornado was nearly upon them, Elezene Holbrook started down the steps into her basement.

Sometime between the first step and the last, the apparent tornado passed directly over her house.

"It was over so quick," said Holbrook, 90. "I didn't even have time to really get scared. Everything went to crashing, and then it was over."

When she emerged from her basement, she was awed to find that hers was one of a handful of houses left standing on Parkway Drive, which leads into downtown Salyersville.

In less than a minute, the violent winds had wiped out homes, businesses, apartment complexes, schools and churches near the intersection of Mountain Parkway and Parkway Drive, leaving little more than splintered wood and colorful insulation strewn about the landscape. The rolling, forested hills that surround Salyersville were nearly bare, with only a few trees left standing.

At daybreak Saturday, residents sorted through the wreckage, some climbing high into the hills to retrieve clothes and blankets.

The winds missed historical downtown Salyersville by about a mile.

A strip of commercial properties on Mountain Parkway was a mere skeleton of what it once was. Roofs were missing from fast-food restaurants and an auto-parts store. A recently renovated McDonalds sat in ruins, its roof and siding damaged and all the windows blown out.

Tales of survival and close calls were easy to come by throughout the town.

Deborah Poe, who lives across the street from Holbrook, said she and her family decided minutes before the storm struck to take shelter at a dance studio where she takes Zumba classes. When they returned, their home was nothing but a concrete slab and a pile of splintered wood.

"Nobody would have survived that," she said, pointing at what was left of her home.

Normally, her family wouldn't have evacuated, but they did Friday night "almost as a joke," she said.

The one thing left untouched was her bed, which was still made and had barely moved. It was under her bed that her dog, a fox terrier named Daisy, took shelter and survived without a scratch.

"She'd have to be the miracle dog," Poe said.

Sherry Henson said she, her mother and her 3-year-old nephew were in their car on Mountain Parkway when a radio announcer told Magoffin County residents to get off the road immediately. She pulled into the parking lot of the nearest building, St. Luke Catholic Church, and took shelter in the basement. The storm destroyed the church, leaving only the basement intact.

"Blessed. Blessed is the word," said Paula Elam, a resident and business owner who took shelter in her neighbor's basement. "I believe in a God that is bigger than all this. We prayed to him, and he kept us safe."

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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