Six Hurricanes, three tornadoes, two wildfires, two floods, one earthquake, and countless localized events. That’s my resume since the summer of 2015. But the scope and scale of damage I witnessed between Mayfield and Gilbertsville, Kentucky left me speechless. A 30-mile stretch of pure devastation. And that is less than a quarter of the 200-mile path this F5 tornado cut.
Finding oneself in these environments frequently creates a familiarity that can become all too normalized. That is, until you step into something beyond what you’ve previously experienced. It’s a wake-up call to mother nature’s wrath. The word obliterated is overused, and when you’ve witnessed something that can only be described with that word, it seems too small. Walking through the community of Cambridge Shores on Kentucky Lake, downtown Mayfield and towns like Benton in between made the word seem small. Very small. Entire neighborhoods were reduced to debris fields. A mix of homes, belongings, cars, boats, trees and root balls strewn across a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Of course, what is also found in scenes like this are the people. Both those of the communities and those there to help. As heartbreaking as it is to see the aftermath of an event like this, it is heartwarming to see the outpouring of help, and then heartbreaking again to realize that it will be years before these communities are whole again. Possibly decades. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting.
I’m fortunate in that I am able to see the best of humanity in the worst of times and capture some of those moments. But, being a photographer during disaster and humanitarian crises comes with a sense of guilt, and even shame sometimes, feeling as though you are intruding in people’s worst moments. Bringing these images to the rest of the world sometimes feels almost dirty. But then someone, somewhere reminds you that the world needs to see these things in order to continue the recovery efforts. It’s usually a community member that brings me back to that reality.
This is a collection of photos taken over the New Year week. I only hope they can bring a renewed awareness and sense of urgency to the needs of these communities. If you have the means, I beg you to consider helping in any capacity. Below is a listing of a few organizations doing incredible work on the ground right now.