MAYFIELD — Stories that have risen from the ashes of the tornadoes that swept through western and central Kentucky three weeks ago continue to touch lives from all over. They are heartbreaking and sometimes miraculous at the same time.
Bob Waldridge, the pastor of Yahweh Baptist in downtown Mayfield, met with a family of six from his church that went through a harrowing experience on Dec. 10 with their home taking a direct hit from the tornado.
The Cook family include a husband and wife and four boys between the ages of 2 and 10. The boys and the mother, who was pregnant, were in the family’s bathroom. The boys were in the bathtub with the mother hovering over them. Daniel, the oldest, was holding his 2-year-old brother John as tightly as he could.
Charles, the dad, was barefooted and not overly concerned about the storm at first. “We have our share of storms,” Waldridge said. “Noah, our local weather guy, he cries wolf a lot.”
But Charles started getting a bad feeling with the storm drawing closer. He went to the front door and looked out and saw that it’s bad. A lightning bolt crashed down off the distance in front of him. “He gets the front door shut and runs to the bathroom. As he’s running, he hears the house popping apart around him. He’s trying to get to them and he’s no small man. He’s 6-6 and 400 pounds,” Waldridge said.
The wind is whistling through the house and it literally lifts him up as he reaches the bathroom. He hits his head on the ceiling of the bathroom, knocking him unconscious. When he wakes up, he’s covered in debris and can’t free himself from it. “Daniel was awake the whole time holding his younger brother until the wind pulled them apart,” the pastor said. “All he can do is cry and apologize. He kept saying, ‘I couldn’t hold him. The wind picked us up and I couldn’t hold him.’ ”
The house semi-stayed together and was lifted off the ground until it hit a tree-line about 100 yards from its original place, practically disintegrating on impact with the trees. “They were bounced around that house for most of that,” Waldridge said. “It’s some miracle that they were alive, but this is the best part.”
Daniel was disoriented and he doesn’t know what happened to anybody. “Now this is a 10-year-old but he’s a good, good boy. He tells this story. He sees a man standing in the way and describes this man very detailed. He says what he’s wearing, how he looks. The man is pointing to a site, and he hears, ‘Help your mommy and daddy.’ He fixes his eyes on this man and he has to climb over rubble, because there’s no good way to get to them. He was relatively close (to them) in proximity. He gets to them, and the man is no longer there. He’s gone.”
Waldridge, who said he was a “conservative Bible man,” believes it was an angelic being that guided Daniel. “I know we preachers sometimes tell stories enough times that they get bigger each time, that’s just our nature, but this story is so powerful. It humbled me so much and reminded me of how big God is.”
Daniel found his mom and dad and gathered his three siblings. He has broken ribs, a broken arm and fractured wrist and had to walk several hundred yards to find someone to help uncover everybody. They had to dig out his father with an excavator, the pastor said. His dad’s feet — remember he was barefoot — were sandblasted with debris and cut to pieces.
Jess, the mother who was six months pregnant, broke her pelvis and had other injuries. They took the baby, a girl who Jess had been dreaming about, but the baby died five days later while Jess was in a medical-induced coma. Her eyes are open but she otherwise hasn’t responded, Waldridge said Tuesday.
“We buried the baby last week and Charles could barely walk,” the pastor said. “He carried that baby’s casket from the hearse up the hill, about 50 to 75 yards, hobbling the whole way up. The strength God gave him was miraculous. Glory still to God here. He saved those folks and to see the strength he’s given people has encouraged me.”
The family is still trying to put pieces of their life back together, Waldridge said.
The youngest sibling didn’t have any broken bones but the rest of them did. They found most of the bathroom and the family’s pickup truck was 300 yards away. The home was on the outskirts of Mayfield close to the candle factory that was decimated by the tornadoes.
“It’s a miracle that everybody lived through that,” Waldridge said.