BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) – The little red carriage was sprawled on a pile of rubble – a pile of boards and bricks, an overturned blue bicycle, a baby doll.
Behind it, there was just more than a hole in the ground where a house had stood. Across the street, the neat houses on this tunnel had turned into piles of wood. Clothes hanging on tree branches. The walls of one house were gone, and the only thing left inside was a white Christmas tree.
When a tornado hit Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the middle of the night, its violence centers on this friendly subdivision, where people wave to each other and giggling kids spend afternoons cycling on the sidewalks. Fourteen people died in several blocks, 11 of them on a single street, Moss Creek Avenue. The entire family was missing, among them seven children, two of which were infants. The neighbors who survived were so traumatized they struggled to talk about it. All around them, amid the rubble, was evidence of the children they had witnessed climbing off the school bus.
Melinda Allen-Ray has barely slept since early Saturday when tornado warnings started wailing and she carried her grandchildren to the bathroom as the wind blew through her house. After only a few minutes of destruction, there was silence. She went outside and heard the neighbors screaming.
“I hear them – that traumatizes me. I think about it every night when I go to bed, when I sleep,” she said. In the dream, she heard screaming and woke up. She cried all weekend.
“I just think about all those kids,” she said.
Hers is a diverse community of families from around the world – Bosnia, Myanmar, Nigeria – many of whom have fled the violence. For some, this renewed destruction prompts thoughts of the dark days when they had to flee in their homeland, where they hid from bombs and lost their entire families.
“We come from war; this reminds us, it touches on the memory of that, where we were and how we got here,” said Ganimete Ademi, a 46-year-old grandmother who fled Kosovo in 1999 during the war , in which she lost her uncle and a grandson. Now she looks around her neighborhood.
“I went back in my memory 22 years ago,” she said.
One of the families that lost many members came from Bosnia. Ademi said the two brothers live in the house next to each other with their families. They are fun and sociable, hosting summer parties in the yard. Police said from the household of the two brothers, a woman had died, along with two children and two infants. Their surviving relatives said it was too difficult to talk about.
Another family here lost six members: three adults, a 16-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy and another child.
Around the corner, a 77-year-old woman was killed. Two other people from the vicinity died of their injuries at the hospital.
“It’s hard to think about — you go to bed, and your whole family goes the next day,” said Ronnie Ward, of the Bowling Green Police Department. They used to tell people to get in the tub and cover it with a mattress, he said, but that probably wouldn’t make much of a difference here: Some houses were so completely destroyed that the tornado tore apart. Rip them all through the floor, revealing the earth below. .
Now, they’re combing through what’s left, flipping each strip of drywall and twisting cart to make sure there are no more victims underneath. It can be a terrible job, Ward says, but they hold on to themselves because they know it has to be done.
“So you go on that mission of trying to get this work done, and then you come across a wagon,” he said, standing near the bent and broken Radio Flyer on a pole. “And you think, that’s tied to a kid somewhere. And did that child live? Those thoughts, they overtake you, they overwhelm you.”
What these children left behind consumed them. There is a Barbie doll that is missing a leg. A stuffed reindeer. A scooter, a toy horse, a hula hoop. There is a pink Disney princess backpack. A car from “Paw Patrol”, and bedding printed with the faces of its goofy animal’s first responders.
Those who had to witness it were calculating how close they and their children had come. As the tornado tore through the area, it burned down some homes and damaged others, but left several neighboring homes unharmed.
“It’s almost hard to see, because how did he miss that house to get this house?” Ward said.
A tree shot through the residential area like a rocket and landed in Ademi’s backyard, about ten meters from where she had crouched with her husband. Her four children and two grandchildren live nearby. “This tree may have come to my house, and we will all be gone,” she said.
The tornado just hit Benedict Awm’s house. Inside, he, his wife, their 2-year-old son and their infant hugged each other under a blanket to protect their eyes and body from shards of glass splashed through broken windows. His wife shook and asked if they were dead. He said he didn’t know.
“It was horrible, you can’t imagine, I thought we were dead,” he said. If tornadoes continued in its direction, they would, he thought. But instead it slightly turned its head. The stormy winds turned still, and their house stood still. Awm thought, a miracle had moved here from war-torn Burma.
Around the corner, someone had painted their front door “Thank God we survived” and hung an American flag from the wreckage of the rafters.
For days now, volunteers have been coming in from all over with trucks and tools, and it’s been comforting.
Awm says: “Sometimes it makes me want to cry, seeing how willing people are to help me.
Ben Cerimovic pulls his truck and trailer every weekend. He was an immigrant from Bosnia, and he knew the family had died here.
“The feeling I’m having right now, I really can’t explain,” he said. There is a strong, thriving Bosnian community in Bowling Green, which has a robust refugee resettlement program to bring migrants to Western Kentucky. Most of them came here from the war to give their children a better life, he said. Now, this precinct looks like a war zone, dotted with things their kids love.
Cerimovic volunteers on Saturday and Sunday, but he has to take Monday off to gather his feelings.
“Every time I see this, and hear about those kids, I think about me,” he said. “What if they were my children?”
https://foxlexington.com/news/kentucky/on-a-single-kentucky-street-the-tornado-killed-7-children/ On a Kentucky street, tornado kills 7 children