ATLANTA, Ga. -- Killer tornadoes raked Kentucky and more than 50 counties in six southeastern states during the Spring of last year, leaving a grim wake of twisted destruction, more than 100 deaths, hundreds of injuries and losses exceeding $179 million in federal and state disaster dollars.
Within a tumultuous 60-day period, President Clinton responded to requests from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee for help in recovering from one of nature's most violent spring rampages. Not since 1936, when tornadoes killed more than 400 in Georgia and Mississippi in a terrifying 24-hour span, had so much tornado destruction been recorded.
In Kentucky, three persons died in the storms that ripped through Adair, Barren, Metcalfe and Warren counties on April 16, two in Barren, and one in Metcalfe. Damage in the four counties was in the millions of dollars.
According to director W. R. Padgett of Kentucky's Division of Emergency Management, many communities are marking the 25th anniversary of the April 3-4, 1974 tornado outbreak in which 28 tornadoes killed 76 Kentuckians, 31 in the City of Brandenburg alone. The '98 tornadoes are only the most recent reminder of the terrible lessons we learned in '74," said Padgett.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provided nearly $6 million in direct assistance to individuals and families, in low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and businesses, and funds to replace or repair damage to public facilities such as roads, bridges, and municipal utilities.
John B. Copenhaver, director of FEMA's eight-state southeastern region, said out of the storms came a greater public awareness of changing weather patterns and new techniques for protecting people and property from the effects of severe weather.
"We can't emphasize enough that when tornadoes or other severe windstorms occur, people need to have a safe place to go with enough time to get there," Copenhaver said. He stressed the concept of FEMA's "safe shelter" program whereby one room in a structure, typically a centrally located bathroom or closet, is fortified to withstand damaging winds.
"While there isn't much that can be done to protect property from a direct hit by winds that approach speeds of 300 mph," he said, "that type storm is very rare, and we know we can reduce death or injury in lesser but still powerful storm strikes."
Copenhaver emphasized that a new FEMA initiative known as Project Impact is designed to help communities develop storm-resistant safe-havens. Its ultimate goal is to end the costly, repetitive loss cycle that follows some natural disasters. "Project Impact is based on a public-private sector partnership that is committed to making entire communities more storm resistant," Copenhaver added. "We know it works."
Lexington and Louisville/Jefferson County are the two Kentucky communities enrolled in the Project Impact program, and Padgett expects others to join as the effort gains more recognition.