By Woodrow Polston
An estimated 70 tornadoes tore through several states on Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11. With the unusually high number of 68 confirmed tornadoes by the National Weather Service, this outbreak is considered to be the single, deadliest tornado outbreak in U. S. history. The aftermath left communities in ruin, with a death toll of 89, surpassing the previous December tornado death toll of 38 in 1953. With a total of six states being affected, the city of Mayfield, Ky., was one of the hardest hit areas.
On Friday evening at approximately 9:25 p.m., the tornado entered the southwestern portion of the city as it reached EF-4 intensity. Radar analysis revealed that the tornado had pulled debris some 30,000 feet into the air, as the tornado ripped across the city. Downtown buildings that were not destroyed in the tornado, were heavily damaged, with missing walls and windows. The Mayfield downtown commercial district suffered significant damage at city hall, and the Graves County Courthouse, which had roof damage including its clock tower being ripped off.
After both the police, and fire stations were destroyed, the town’s ability to communicate emergency operations became all but impossible. Knowing that Mayfield law enforcement would be in dire need of all the help they could get, Raymond Bumbales, chief of police in Farber, Mo., quickly organized a team and headed to Kentucky.
“My son Brandon and I, along with other volunteers from Jefferson County and St. Louis County, were able to arrive in Mayfield within 24 hours of the tornado,” said Bumbales. “It would have taken us less time to get there except there were multiple routes that had been closed. When we arrived there, we checked in at the police command post, which was at a bank that was utilizing a generator for electricity. We were made aware that looting of the affected businesses had begun soon after the storm had passed through. By the time that we had arrived, there were cops everywhere. We were assigned to looter duty, and we were tasked with guarding the Mayfield Walmart, which had many pallets of merchandise sitting outside in the parking lot. This was a result of delivery trucks dropping off shipments in a rush to avoid the storm,” added Bumbales.
Because of the tornado damage to the Graves County Jail, all the inmates were transported to another county. Bumbales and other out-of-state law enforcement volunteers were also assigned to help remove equipment from the jail. There was a 7 p.m. curfew in place for the city, so the volunteers were working there until that time. After that, they would return to their looter duty at Walmart.
“After we removed all of the necessary items from the jail, we were glad to get a chance to sit down and rest for a minute,” said Bumbales. “The amount of volunteers who came to support this community was truly overwhelming. Everywhere we went there were people offering free food and water. There were out-of-state volunteers from Tennessee, Texas, and even as far away as California. In my 30 years of military service, I have never seen such an amazing humanitarian response as this. It was really impressive to see so many fellow Americans come together in such an amazing way, during this tragic event,” he added.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency early Saturday morning and requested federal assistance.
“It’s devastating,” said Beshear, during a news conference. He also stated that he had activated the National Guard, with more than 180 guardsmen deploying to the hardest hit section of the state.
“The entire time that we were volunteering there, a nonstop rescue effort was underway,” said Bumbales. “The whole city was dark except for a few places here and there that had generators. There was a house that was lifted (off its foundation) and was sitting on a highway blocking one of the lanes. There was twisted metal, broken telephone poles, and downed power lines everywhere. I even saw a refrigerator up in a tree,” he added.
After FEMA arrived, there was less demand for volunteers, and nowhere to stay during the night. Despite this, Bumbales stated that he did not want to leave. And upon his return home, all he wanted to do was go back and help some more, as he continued to monitor the relief efforts and rescue operations that were broadcast on television.