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By JAY REEVES and SUDHIN THANAWALA Associated Press
Details about the fathers and mothers, children, friends and siblings who died during a tornado outbreak that ripped through the Midwest and South are still coming into focus nearly a week after the onslaught.
At least 89 people have been confirmed dead across multiple states after more than 40 tornadoes pummeled a wide area, and entire communities are grieving for the lost. Officials say 74 people died in Kentucky alone, and Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll could grow still larger.
Here are some of the people who perished during the tornado outbreak.
Carl Hogan, 60, was “incredibly devoted” to his wife of 41 years, and he was looking forward to getting her back home in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, following a stay in a hospital and nursing home that began in February, said daughter Katie Fields, who only lived a mile or so from her father.
“He was a retired long haul trucker who had settled down in that small town to try to enjoy his golden years near my kids (and) along the banks of our little Tradewater River,” Fields said in an message to The Associated Press.
The tornado left the plan in shreds. Fields said she spoke to her father on the phone just moments before the twister hit and made a desperate bid to get to his home afterward.
“I ran up & down his street screaming for him & throwing pieces of wood & metal trying to see if he was under the debris. I finally found his vehicles & from that could tell where his home was supposed to be & that it was totally gone,” she wrote.
Hogan’s body was located about a day later, and Fields said now she does not want him remembered as “the guy who died in the tornado.” Hogan loved to fish and loved his green Chevrolet truck, she said, and he was a fan of the TV show “Yellowstone.” His four grandchildren “were his world,” she said, and Hogan was a “fantastic” father.
“He was religious but it was a quiet, private faith,” said Fields. “He was truly just a good man.
Ernie Aiken, 86, decided to ride the storm out in his trailer in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, despite the looming danger.
The Vermont native served in the U.S. Army at Fort Campbell and then settled in the town, said son Tony Aiken. He started two auto repair stations in the area and continued to work on people’s cars at a shop next to his home until his death. The shop was a magnet for the community, and guys would come and hang out, taking advantage of seating he put out.
“I mean he just loved people,” said Aiken, 65. “It’s not a high-income town. And so he would work on people’s cars and say, ‘Well, they need their car and they can’t afford to pay me so pay me when you can.’ The town loved him.”
But he lived alone and had lost friends in recent years. Tony Aiken said his father was “ready to go” and was resigned to the danger of the storm.
“His attitude was, ‘If I’m here tomorrow, great, and if I’m not, I’m not,’” Tony Aiken said.
Huda Alubahi grabbed her two young sons and sheltered in a closet as the tornado bore down on their home in Mayfield, Kentucky.
Shortly after closing the closet door, the house collapsed around them, she told CBS news in an interview. Alubahi was smashed in the face with a sink, unable to move her head and trapped by the debris, she said.
Her 1-year-old son began to cry, but she heard nothing from her 3-year-old son, Jhal’lil. It took several people to pull the mother and children from the rubble, and it was only when she was in the hospital Alubahi learned that Jhal’lil had died in her arms.
“He was something special,” she said. “I wish I could have saved my son.”
Julius, 1, had no injuries. “He was untouched, literally, nothing,” Alubahi said.
Lannis Joe Ward, who worked at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, had been saving money with girlfriend Autumn Kirks for months to buy a house. They were both at work the night a tornado leveled the building and afterward Kirks recalled glancing away from Ward for a few seconds only to look back and realize he had disappeared.
The Graves County coroner has since identified the 36-year-old Ward, who Kirks described as “a big teddy bear” in an interview with The Associated Press, as being among the dozens of people who died in the tornado outbreak.
Ward, who was a line leader at the plant, had five sons and two daughters, according to an obituary published by a funeral home. Also known as Joe Marshall Ward, he is survived by his mother and brother, but his father died previously.
Kirks said she has tried to explain to both her children and Ward’s that he is no longer alive, but the youngest kids don’t really understand what has happened.
“My 3-year-old just keeps asking to talk to Joe, and I don’t know what to tell her,” Kirks told MSNBC.
A funeral is planned for Ward on Friday in Mayfield just a couple miles from where he died.
Jill Monroe is remembered by loved ones in lots of ways – as a mom, grandmother, sister and friend. She had moved to Mayfield, Kentucky, in August to get a fresh start.
Monroe, 52, was among the people at work at a candle factory in the town when a twister slammed into the building. She didn’t make it out alive, but a co-worker told son Chris Chrism that his mother was trying to protect others when the storm struck, WHAS-TV reported.
“(Monroe’s friend) said that all of the sudden they were told that they needed to get back to the hallway or the bathroom and that the tornado was close,” Chism said. “She said they got in there and it wasn’t five minutes after they got into the bathroom. She and her sister went in the first stall. She said, ‘The last time I saw your mom she ran into the last stall and took a bunch of people with her. We all laid down and tried to hold on.”
Christmas was of her Monroe’s favorite times of the year, which will make the upcoming holiday that much tougher, Chism said.
“I was able to recover some of the presents that she got for the kids,” Chism said. “We’re going to get them wrapped and we’re going to put ‘from Mimi’ on them. Our little elf friend that’s running around the house is going to have a picture of her in his lap sitting on them and we’re just going to let the kids try to have the day because that’s what she would have wanted. Christmas was all about watching the babies open their presents.”
At the Ridgewood Terrace Health and Rehabilitation nursing home in Madisonville, Kentucky, Claude Mitchell did more than just laundry. Whenever he stopped by residents’ rooms with clean clothes and fresh linens, he would say or do something to brighten their day.
“Claude took a liking to my mom, and he was the greatest joy in her day when he would come in and talk to her for a few minutes,” said Jeannie Buckner, whose 97-year-old mother lives at Ridgewood Terrace. “I can’t even tell you how she lit up when he would come in.”
Residents and staff gathered outside the 110-bed nursing home Monday to release balloons into the air in memory of Mitchell. They learned over the weekend that the 65-year-old laundry worker was killed in the deadly storms that destroyed homes and buildings in nearby Dawson Springs, where he lived.
Mitchell had worked for about six years at the nursing home, said Lauren Lloyd, the facility’s administrator. He would often stop by the nurses’ station and other gathering places for staff members, she said, asking co-workers how their day was going.
“It’s just a deep loss for us to lose someone that had such a bright personality,” Lloyd said. “The staff are taking it hard.”
Buckner said Mitchell would often dote on her mother: letting her handle his gold necklaces and bracelets, bringing her candy bars and sometimes even spending his lunch breaks chatting in her room.
“I just can’t say enough good about him,” Buckner said. “I never saw him in a bad mood. And when he was there, everybody seemed to be in a better mood.”
Siblings Marsha Hall, 72, and Carole Grisham, 80, were referred to as “the sisters” around Dawson Springs, Kentucky, friend Jenny Beshear Sewell said. They were often in each other’s company and had lived in the same home for years, according to Hall’s son, Jason Cummins. They were there together Friday night when a tornado approached and ripped through the house, killing both of them.
“They really just took care of each other,” Cummins, 43, said. “It was always the two of them. They were best friends.”
Cummins said he texted his aunt and mother “good morning” and told them he loved them every day. On the day of the storm, he added that they should “watch the weather.” He was tracking the storm on Facebook that night and told Hall to get Grisham and get in the hallway.
“She said, ‘I cleaned out the closet in case I need to get in there.’” Cummins recalled. “She said, ‘I love you.’ She texted each of my siblings and said she loved them, and then when it was over.”
Hall was still working at a funeral home, where she arranged flowers and assisted grieving families. Grisham had also worked there in the past as had the sisters’ mother.
Beshear Sewell, who owned the funeral home, said Hall was always thinking about what a family would need.
“It could be finances,” she said. “It could be that grandmother is in a wheelchair and when they show up we’re going to have to do this and that. It was just everything.”
Recent health problems had limited Grisham’s mobility, and Beshear Sewell said she’s convinced Hall decided not to leave her and seek shelter elsewhere. She recalled that Hall would pick her grandson up from school even when he was old enough to walk home himself and the day was nice because she did not want anything to happen to him.
Cummins has been sifting through the debris at the home, keeping anything he finds intact — a doorknob, a key. He said he found his mom’s purse with cash she had taken out of the bank to hand out at Christmas.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel the day when I don’t come up here and look for something,” he said. “That’s when I think it will hit me.”
Cory Mitchell Scott worked in construction and, according to his obituary, spent his spare time “playing basketball, shooting guns, souping up trucks and listening to loud music.”
The coroner for Warren County, Kentucky, confirmed 27-year-old Scott of Bowling Green was killed at home as deadly tornadoes struck the Midwest and South.
Scott inherited a love of woodworking from his father and had a job with a local contractor remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, building custom furniture and other construction projects, according to his obituary in the Bowling Green Daily News.
“He was the life of the party and loved getting his friends together more than anything,” the obit said. “A friend to Cory was family, and there was no such thing as a stranger to him.”
Jeff and Jennifer Eckert divided their time between Kentucky and the Gulf coast of Florida, where he started a book publishing company near Sarasota in 1988.
The couple from Dawson Springs, Kentucky, were identified by a county coroner as being among those who perished in the deadly tornado outbreak that devastated areas of the Midwest and South.
Jeff Eckert, 70, was the founder of J.K. Eckert & Company, a company that published more than 400 books for some of the larger publishing houses, according to his obituary in The Messenger newspaper of Madisonville, Kentucky. He played music in several bands over the years and was a small aircraft pilot.
Jennifer Eckert, 69, had worked in an optometrist’s office for 15 years, her obituary said. She loved to travel and host cookouts with family and friends.
Days after the tornadoes hit Tennessee, Sandy Gunn still clings to her phone, anxious for any news on a brother-in-law who is missing following a weekend duck hunting trip in the rural western region of the state.
Gunn’s brother, Steve, 50, and Steve Gunn’s son, Grayson, 12, had traveled from Florida with a small group to stay at the Cypress Point Resort — a popular destination for hunters and anglers due to its close location to the lake. One of the several tornadoes to hit Tennessee tore through the building in the middle of the night, sucking the father and son into the storm as they huddled in the second story. Their bodies were later found just a few feet away among the debris and uprooted trees.
“(Steve) could build a house from a matchbook,” Sandy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “You couldn’t go to Walmart with him without a hundred people stopping him. His son was the kid you grew up dreaming to have.”
Adding to Gunn’s heartbreak is her missing brother-in-law, Jamie Hall, who was also part of the hunting group.
First responders, family members and residents have all jumped in to help find him, but to date, no progress has been made.