Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Mission to Rebuild: Central PA church helps Kentucky town after devastating tornado

A Trinity UMC mission team at work in Mayfield, Ky.

At about 10 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2021, a deadly EF4 tornado struck Mayfield, Ky., upending cars, buildings and lives, and causing catastrophic damage and dozens of casualties.

The small town was essentially destroyed. Homes were swept off their foundations, businesses collapsed into piles of rubble, and cars were tossed into the air and mangled into unrecognizable masses of metal. Hundreds of towering trees were snapped and debarked, and numerous power lines were downed, wiping out the town’s emergency operations center’s ability to transmit radio communications.

About 110 people were left trapped at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory when the tornado tore through that facility, flattening the building to the ground and tossing industrial vehicles. A total of nine employees were killed at the candle factory, and several others were injured.

All in all, 24 deaths were confirmed in Mayfield at the hands of the tornado, according to the Graves County coroner, and many others were injured. The tornado was on the ground for about 200 miles between the Kentucky and Tennessee border, and had a top wind speed of 190 mph.

Tornado damage in Mayfield.

On Aug. 13 through Aug. 20, Sue McFeaters of Susquehanna Township traveled with the Trinity UMC mission team from Lickdale, Pa., to Mayfield, where her team partnered with His House Ministries to build houses for tornado victims.

During her time there, she worked on three sites. On the first site, she completed sub-flooring, put up walls and trusses, and put sheeting on the sides and roof of a house.

At the second site, her team of volunteers laid block and poured concrete foundation, and, at the third site, they poured the footers.

“We had one rainy day, so we worked in the warehouse, building nine walls for future houses. And…I learned how to use a nail gun!” McFeaters joked –a far cry from her office tools as an admissions counselor at Central Penn College in Summerdale.

While McFeaters was working on houses, the townspeople were working alongside her team to rebuild the town’s water tower, which had been totally leveled by the tornado.

She recalled meeting a man named Forrest, who lost his home in the tornado. Forrest had been in bed when the tornado “blew his house down on him and sucked him out of his home,” propelling him three blocks away. He had to wait for someone to find him and then spent three weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

“Our team was grateful to bring a glimpse of hope to this town as they rebuild and put the pieces of their lives back together,” McFeaters said.

In helping a candle factory and a town to shine again, she is reminded of the words of Adlai Stevenson, in describing Eleanor Roosevelt upon her death: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

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