KENTUCKY (WEHT) – December 10 marks the first anniversary of a devastating tornado that tore through parts of western Kentucky. The twister traveled for nearly 170 miles, destroying nearly everything in its path. The massive storm took the lives of more than 50 victims, and has forever changed the lives of those living in the communities impacted.
Two of the hardest hit communities are right here in the Tri-State. Those living in Dawson Springs and Bremen experienced entire blocks of homes leveled. Damage estimates across the commonwealth are in the billions of dollars, and even though the road to recovery is well underway, there is still a long way to go.
Over the past year, Eyewitness News has brought viewers stories from those who experienced the tornado first hand. As the anniversary approaches, Eyewitness News has re-visited those victims to see what has changed for them over the last 12 months.
Tornado victim still finds hope through music
A year ago, our crews spoke with a young man from Bremen who lost his home in the tornado. Despite the chaos, Jordan Baize found a moment of peace in playing the piano left standing in his home. That moment was recorded and viewed around the world. 12 months later, he and his neighbors are still healing and turning to music for hope.
“We’ve worked hard,” said Jordan Baize. “A lot of service projects, a lot of helping in the community.”
Bremen native Jordan Baize has spent the past year helping his hometown clean up after the tornado ripped through the community.
“I think largely folks are returning to a sense of normalcy,” said Baize. “We don’t get there overnight. we’ve done it as a community collectivity and got through it together.”
As Bremen builds back up, Baize’s home remains untouched as he moved his family into his childhood house.
“It looks eerily similar to to the night of the storm,” said Baize. I’ve done very little with it. It ripped the roof off. Laid the front wall of the home over into the living room.”
Taking a look at the damage, Christmas decorations from last year lay scattered throughout the house. Pieces of broken glass line the floor, but Jordan’s piano, still remains in the center of the rubble.
He remembers the night of December 10.
“The sounds were awful,” said Baize. “So I didn’t know what to expect. It was worse than I thought. It could have been much worse but worse than I expected.”
The next morning, Baize returned to the destroyed home, hoping the piano would offer one last melody.
“I wanted to see what kind of shape it was in,” said Baize. “Could it be salvaged and two I was being terribly unproductive that morning anyway. I was just walking around in a lot of circles it felt like. I thought I’m going to sit and see how that piano and see what damage it took.”
The result? A moment of music magic.
“My playing always brings a sense of calm especially sacred music,” said Baize.
As he played, Baize’s sister secretly recorded the performance, a Gaither song, only to remain private for minutes.
“Shared on social media,” said Baize. “I think it did bring a sense of peace and perspective in the middle of a terrible situation.”
Soon messages from all over the world came pouring in, thanking Baize for his gift.
“Hey I’m dealing with my own storm,” said Baize. “And your position through your storm has changed my position through mine. even in the middle of trying times we can have a peace.”
Next the Grand Ole Opry called.
“Going to the opry really put our little town and its struggles in front millions of people all across the world,” said Baize.
But the year has has brought stressful moments for Baize and his children as well.
“The weather alert alarm goes off in our little town,” said Baize. “Just for a brief second every Saturday morning it catches them off guard. And my little princess Annie Grace, she’s six she says I don’t like that you know. So still it’s been a tough time but they’re doing well.”
As Baize looks ahead to 2023, he puts his faith in God, his community, the generosity of strangers, and family to restore Bremen once again.
“We can live in a great state of mind if we’re careful where we place our thoughts,” said Baize.
Bremen Elementary School will host a remembrance ceremony and dinner on December 10 to mark the anniversary of the tornado. Baize and his family will be providing music throughout the evening.
23 Minutes of destruction: December 10th tornado
As the tornado moved out of Hopkins County, families spend countless hours searching for loved ones and friends and picking up what was left. To this day, the storm has left debris stuck in trees, and concrete pads empty where homes once stood. What was hard on families, may have been harder on first responders, as they spent their time helping hundreds of people.
Hopkins County EMA Director Nick Bailey said his mind never stopped for weeks, and the tornado’s impact hit him the hardest 15 days later when he thought of those who didn’t get to go home for Christmas.
Dawson Spring’s Police Chief Mike Opalek recalls the first radio dispatch after the tornado that was for a mother and her three kids trapped under a home. Chief Opalek’s cruiser was damaged on the way to the house and he never made it to the scene. He says the four victims were rescued and are safe today, but the experience has stuck with him. “Every now and then that still lingers on in my mind. That I never made it to that house.”