On the drive into the small town of Mayfield, we’re given no hint of what’s to come.
Tornadoes are among the most frightening of weather phenomena but they are also so localised. They are cruelly selective.
The edge of the town in Kentucky is unscathed. We even questioned if we were in the right place. But then, as we turned onto 6th Street and then onto Broadway, we saw what this storm had done.
The destruction is breathtaking: homes, businesses, and many lives all gone. It is the sustained strength of the storm system that’s so remarkable.
It’s power brought down brick buildings. The huge tower of the town’s courthouse was toppled. And all around, vehicles are upturned and churned up. They must have been carried by the wind for some distance.
There was some warning that a storm was coming. Across America, extreme weather warnings – via local radio, text message and online – are sophisticated and effective. And here in “tornado alley”, storm sirens are a key part of the early warning systems.
But no one had prepared for such an intense weather phenomenon. There were multiple tornadoes across six states and one is thought to have travelled for 200 miles at ground level.
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- extreme weather
At the fire station in Mayfield, we found firefighters who had just finished their shift now repairing their own premises. The roof had been ripped off.
The fire chief, Jeremy Creason, had asked his team to stay as the storm hit. They did, and they now wonder how they survived.
“The building was shaking, the lights were going off, there was debris flying everywhere,” Mr Creason said.
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Had he ever experienced anything like that before, I asked.
“Never in my life. It was one of the scariest few minutes of my life.”
Up the road, the local candle factory had been full with night shift workers meeting the Christmas demand. Among those trapped for hours was Kyana Parsons Perez.
“The lights went out and then we did a rock, rock, rock. Boom,” she told reporters.
“Everything fell down on us.”
Many of her co-workers are still unaccounted for.
“We’re committed to serving our community and we’re not going to stop until everybody is accounted for and everybody that we can help is helped,” Mr Creason said.
There are many communities which have been hit like this. Across several states from north to south, the length of the country, this series of tornadoes has ripped apart life and livelihood.
And it all comes at a time when so many have been struggling so much already.