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A rural community of 200 people in Kentucky lost 12 in tornado on Friday

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Kentucky now, where dozens of people died after a series of tornadoes raked across the state Friday night. We have heard a lot from Mayfield, which saw unbelievable destruction, but the storms devastated many places across Western Kentucky. WFPL's Ryan Van Velzer reports from one small, rural community that sustained a big loss.

RYAN VAN VELZER, BYLINE: Early Sunday morning, Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman visited the town of Bremen, population 200. It's in Muhlenberg County and is one of many rural communities in Western Kentucky that suffered extensive damage and loss.

JACQUELINE COLEMAN: As of this morning, the death toll here is 12. Twelve is an enormous amount of people for a small community like this.

VAN VELZER: Coleman says it will be a while before the full scope of the destruction is understood of the tornado that traveled more than 200 miles across the state. Outside, people gathered at the local fire station to organize the emergency response before heading back out to the worst hit areas around Bremen. That included a group of teenagers, who showed up on ATVs ready to help clear debris, find belongings. Sixteen-year-old Macy Fields says it's hard to see the community she's lived in for her whole life so completely decimated. Her home survived, but her friend lost his.

MACY FIELDS: The town's unrecognizable in some parts. And me and Ashton and Isaac have lived here our whole lives, and Isaac was really affected. The house he was in collapsed, and it's just traumatizing for him.

VAN VELZER: Muhlenberg County Sheriff's Deputy Alex Piper says authorities have completed search and rescue operations and are working to restore power amid freezing overnight temperatures. He says it's so hard to deal with all of this in such a small community that suffered tremendous loss.

ALEX PIPER: Obviously, it's a catastrophic event. I know in my time, I've - a resident of Muhlenberg County my entire life. I've never seen anything like this.

VAN VELZER: Piper drove me through the path of the tornado, which in some places reached nearly a mile wide. We stopped at Lost Valley Farms and spoke with Danny Miller, a 74-year-old farmer, as he burned debris from the tornado.

DANNY MILLER: We just lucky. We listened to the radio - I mean, television. And it said go down - go to your basement, and I went to the basement.

VAN VELZER: But while he and his wife were safe, his farm sustained major damage. The tornado sucked the lid off of a grain bin, spreading corn across the road. Miller said it could be a $100,000 loss. The roof flew off the house of Miller's daughter, who lives across the street. They, too, survived by heading down to the basement. But just down the street, two of Miller's close family members died.

MILLER: I lost a brother and a - and his wife in this. They didn't - they lived in a double-wide, and they didn't - they didn't make it.

VAN VELZER: Miller says he doesn't know if he'll ever recover from this, but he says that he will rebuild. And he won't be doing it alone. Thousands of Kentuckians are in the same situation, and thousands more are reaching out to help.

For NPR News, I'm Ryan Van Velzer in Bremen, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.