CLEVELAND — Ranging from five months to 86 years old, a total of 79 people are confirmed dead from the violent, nocturnal tornado outbreak that raked across a large section of western Kentucky and four other states on Friday. With the affected communities facing a grim and daunting task ahead, volunteers from across Northeast Ohio from a litany of agencies and organizations have begun to mobilize.
The Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross began putting the pieces and people together over the weekend once the size and scope of the damage were revealed. At least 40 tornadoes were reported across nine states between Friday night and early Saturday morning, although storm surveys will ultimately determine how many tornadoes spawned as a result of the rare December severe weather event.
Storm surveys following the violent supercell that carved through Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky before dissipating in southern Ohio will likely take weeks, officials said.
The cleanup will take even longer.
“The size and scope make it difficult. Of course, our first priority is to assess the damage and determine what people need,” said Christy Peters from the American Red Cross. “That will probably include setting up shelters because with the destruction people are going to need safe places to stay.”
Peters said some local volunteers have already deployed to parts of Kentucky and another group will begin making the trek south later this week. In addition to needing more trained volunteers willing to assist, the Red Cross is also in serious need of blood donations and monetary donations. Those wanting to contribute to the relief efforts can text the word DISASTER to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
This is not going to be a quick recovery. The Red Cross is committing to staying and helping these individuals as long as possible,” Peters said. “We foresee a long-term process to get everyone back into homes and to be safe. Right now volunteers that have volunteered to go down to Kentucky — because of that two-week deployment requirement — will be gone over Christmas, which means they are going to be leaving their families over the Christmas season, over the holidays, to assist others. It really is a selfless act.”
On Sunday, Ohio Task Force 1, an elite team of specialists in urban search and rescue, was activated and began assembling personnel and supplies needed for what will likely be a two-week effort.
“Our team specializes in structural damage. This is really our [specialty]: going to structural collapses and searching for people. Our crews are just there to support and do really whatever Kentucky needs us to do,” said Ohio Task Force 1 spokesperson Phil Sinewe. “This is over a wide range of Kentucky. This is clearly one of the worst tornadoes that we’ll see in US history. The fact that we’re going to this tornado speaks volumes about how bad it is.”
The Red Cross has also provided 200 additional blood products to hospitals to assist with the medical care of those injured in the tornado outbreak. Those interested in donating blood or becoming a volunteer can find more information at www.redcross.org and www.redcrossblood.org.