Heartbreak & Hope in the Heartland
It got quiet in the truck as we neared our destination. It was dark outside, but the change in our surroundings was still shocking; we were on a rural road and streetlights were scarce; the trucks’ headlights illuminated an array of trees, bushes, and mailboxes. The change came suddenly; the trees disappeared, replaced by giant piles of debris. This was the mile-wide path of the tornado that tore through Bremen, Kentucky, and the surrounding community on December 10th, 2021.
The extent of the destruction became clearer in the morning as we returned to the fire house in Bremen where a command center has been established to coordinate the relief effort. The scope and scale of the storm is impossible to capture in words or pictures. Wind speeds approached 200 miles per hour as the tornado tore through Bremen. Some houses along the path were damaged, but most were destroyed; others disappeared entirely, a concrete foundation the only remaining sign of the home that once stood there.
Servant’s first disaster relief team arrived a month after the storm. An estimated 60,000 cubic yards of debris had already been removed from the area. For some context, a dump truck’s capacity is around 12 cubic yards. And while that number is astonishing, it barely makes a dent in the totals. In nearby Graves County, an estimated 2 million cubic yards of debris was produced by the storm.
It is easy to get overwhelmed when you read the numbers and survey the devastation. But when you meet people and hear their stories, the reality comes crashing back. The team had the opportunity to meet several families who were impacted by the storm. As we listened to their harrowing and tragic stories, the physical and emotional exhaustion was evident.
We spent the morning of our third day picking up debris on a property several miles from the center of town – the home was still standing but the roof had been torn off. Amongst the pieces of wood, metal, and fibered insulation, we found a small, laminated piece of paper labeled “A Guide to Prayer.”
As we were wrapping up our work, a car pulled in and we got to meet Sue; she and her husband Tom had moved onto the property in 1964 and built their home there. She told us how they had weathered the storm together in their bathroom, how it shook the whole house, how it sounded like a bomb went off before turning completely silent, and how they didn’t realize the roof was gone until it started to rain, and their ceiling began collapsing. She told us about their plan to rebuild and how blessed they feel to still have each other despite losing so much. We recalled the Guide to Prayer we had found in her field and showed it to her. Sure enough, it had been a bookmark in her Bible, but she said she didn’t want it back; after 75 years she reckoned she knew how to pray by now.
Our talk with Sue lasted for a little while longer, and then we offered to pray with her before departing for our next job. She jumped at the opportunity and before any of us could muster anything beyond “Dear Lord,” Sue proved to us that she indeed did know how to pray. Hers was a prayer of praise and thanksgiving and hope. A prayer just as concerned with our team as it was with the long road of recovery that lays ahead for her family and their entire community. We were speechless in the moments after her “Amen.” Inspired and encouraged by her faith, we left with a new perspective. Amidst the destruction and the many piles of debris, there are tiny sign of hope that will help guide the rebuilding effort in Bremen and beyond. If you would like to support Servants’ efforts in the tornado recovery and rebuilding process, you can visit servants.org/disastervolunteer.