By Steve Bittenbender
The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – Kentuckians impacted by last week’s devastating tornadoes and storms face a long and challenging recovery. That’s according to a former FEMA official with experience managing disaster responses.
Josh Dozor worked 13 years for FEMA, including two years as the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for response. The challenges residents in western and southern Kentucky face in moving on are the limited availability of contractors and building materials as well a limited supply of temporary shelters.
“There’s only so many hotels, which makes it difficult to enable families to keep the kids in the schools where they want to be with their friends and their teachers,” said Mr. Dozor, who now serves as the general manager of assistance operations for International SOS, a global health and security risk services company.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced earlier this week the state’s Department of Parks would offer lodging to families displaced by storms. As of Thursday, state parks provided shelter and food for 610 residents and 176 first responders.
At least four tornadoes hit Kentucky last Friday night, killing 77 and injuring at least 138. Communities hit the hardest include Mayfield, Dawson Springs and Bowling Green.
Mayfield and Dawson Springs were hit by a tornado that traveled nearly 130 miles on the ground. That tornado has been categorized preliminarily as an EF4, the second-highest rating for a tornado. The National Weather Service has estimated the peak winds of that line to be at 190 mph, and it also said the storm’s path was at least a mile wide at times.
The weather itself may also present challenges, Mr. Dozor said. With the official start of winter less than a week away, if the ground freezes, that would lengthen the amount of time it would take to rebuild.
As officials continue to investigate the damage caused by the storm, it’s possible it still could be upgraded to an EF5, the highest possible rating.
Another challenge Mr. Dozor said the region may face is a slower recovery if people most affected by the storms did not have insurance. A high rate of the uninsured will “drastically complicate” the return of the local economy.
“Remember, federal assistance can help, but it’s not designed to make folks whole,” he said.
That’s another area where officials are looking to help residents. Gov. Beshear said a fund recovery fund set up by the state has received $18.4 million in donations. While a portion of that money will be used to cover burial expenses for those who died in the storm, the state will also look to help uninsured homeowners as well.
Mr. Dozor said that people who want to help in the recovery effort can best do so by donating money to causes like the state’s Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund or a charitable nonprofit that’s working to provide services.
“They convert your money to what is needed most at the time and the place based on the unique needs of the situation,” he said.