On a single Kentucky street, the tornado killed 7 children

Dec 14, 2021, 11:11 PM | Updated: Dec 15, 2021, 10:54 pm

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — The little red wagon was strewn upside down on a heap of rubble — a pile of boards and bricks, a mangled blue bicycle, a baby doll.

Behind it, there was little more than a hole in the ground where a house had stood. Across the street, the tidy homes on this cul-de-sac were reduced to mounds of lumber. Clothes hung from the branches of snapped trees. The walls of one house were gone, and the only thing left standing inside was a white Christmas tree.

When a tornado touched down in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the middle of the night, its violence was centered on this friendly subdivision, where everyone waved at one another and giggling children spent afternoons tooling around on bicycles on the sidewalks. Fourteen people died in a few blocks, 11 of them on a single street, Moss Creek Avenue. Entire families were lost, among them seven children, two of them infants. Neighbors who survived are so stricken with grief they struggle to speak of it. All around them, amid the ruins, is evidence of the kids they used to watch climb off the school bus.

Melinda Allen-Ray has barely slept since early Saturday, when tornado alerts started screaming and she carried her grandchildren into the bathroom as winds whipped her house apart. After just minutes of destruction, there was silence. She went outside and heard her neighbors’ screams.

“I heard them — it traumatized me. I think about that each night when I go to sleep, when I do sleep,” she said. In her dreams she hears the screaming and wakes up. She wept all weekend.

“I just think about all those babies,” she said.

Hers is a diverse community of families from around the world — Bosnia, Myanmar, Nigeria — many of whom fled from violence. For some, this fresh destruction triggers thoughts of the dark days they fled in their homelands, where they hid from bombs and lost whole families.

“We come from war; this reminds us, it touches the memory of that, where we’ve been and how we came 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 nephew. Now she looks around her own neighborhood.

“I turn my memory back to 22 years ago,” she said.

One of the families that lost many members was from Bosnia. Two brothers lived in homes next door to each other with their families, Ademi said. They were happy and gregarious, holding summertime parties in the yard. From the two brothers’ households, one woman died, along with two children and two infants, police said. Their surviving relatives said it’s too difficult to speak of it.

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 grandmother was killed. Two others from the neighborhood died of their injuries at the hospital.

“That’s hard to think about — you go to bed, and your entire family is gone the next day,” said Ronnie Ward, with the Bowling Green Police Department. They usually tell people to get in a bathtub and cover up with a mattress, he said, but that probably would’ve made little difference here: Some homes were destroyed so completely the tornado ripped all the way through the floor, exposing the earth below.

Now, they comb through what remains, turning over every strip of dry wall and each twisted car to make sure there aren’t more victims underneath. It can be horrific work, Ward said, but they try to steady themselves enough because they know it must be done.

“So you go about that task of trying to get this work done, and then you come across a wagon,” he said, standing near the Radio Flyer bent and broken on a pile. “And you think, that’s associated with a child somewhere. And did that child live? Those thoughts, they overtake you, they overwhelm you.”

What these children left consumes them. There’s a Barbie doll missing a leg. A reindeer stuffed animal. A scooter, a toy horse, a hula hoop. There’s a pink Disney princess backpack. A car from “Paw Patrol,” and bedding printed with the faces of its goofy animal first responders.

The people who’ve had to see it are reckoning with how close they and their own children came. As the tornado tore through the subdivision, it decimated some houses and damaged others, yet left some just next door unscathed.

“It’s almost hard to look at, because how did it miss that house but it got this house?” Ward said.

A tree shot through the neighborhood like a missile and landed in Ademi’s backyard, about a dozen feet from where she’d cowered with her husband. Her four children and two grandchildren live nearby. “This tree could have come in my house, and we’d all be gone too,” she said.

The tornado turned just as it got to Benedict Awm’s house. Inside, he, his wife, their 2-year-old son and infant held one another under a blanket to protect their eyes and bodies from the broken glass shooting through shattered windows. His wife shook and asked if they would die. He said he didn’t know.

“It’s terrible, you can’t imagine, I thought we were dead,” he said. Had the tornado kept on its course, they would be, he thinks. But instead it turned slightly. Thunderous winds turned to silence, and their house still stood. A miracle, thinks Awm, who moved here from war-torn Burma.

Around the corner, someone spray-painted on their front door the words “By God’s grace we survived,” and hung an American flag from the wreckage of their rafters.

For days now, volunteers have arrived from all over with trucks and tools, and there’s comfort in that.

“Sometimes it makes me want to cry, to see how people are willing to help me,” Awm said.

Ben Cerimovic pulled his truck and trailer in every day over the weekend. He’s an immigrant from Bosnia, and he knows the family that died here.

“The feelings I’m having right now I really can’t explain,” he said. There’s a close-knit, 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 war so their children would have a better life, he said. Now this subdivision looks like a war zone, scattered with things their children loved.

Cerimovic volunteered Saturday and Sunday, but he had to take Monday off to gather his emotions.

“Every time I see this, and I hear about those kids, I think about mine,” he said. “What if they were my kids?”

___

Raby reported from Charleston, West Virginia. AP reporter Mike Catalini contributed from Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Police investigating fire at Colorado pregnancy center

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — A weekend fire at a Christian pregnancy center in north-central Colorado is being investigated as a possible arson, police in Longmont said. The fire at Life Choices was reported at 3:17 a.m. Saturday, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and said abortion laws would be decided by […]
16 hours ago
The Very Rev. Kris Stubna, rector of St. Paul Cathedral Parish, preaches on the topic of abortion a...
Associated Press

After Roe’s demise, clergy lead faithful in praise, laments

Praise and lament for the overturning of abortion rights filled sacred spaces this weekend as clergy across the U.S. rearranged worship plans or rewrote sermons to provide their religious context — and competing messages — about the historic moment. Abortion is a visceral issue for deeply divided religious Americans. Some are sad or angry in […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Poisonous bite leads German police to farm with 110 snakes

BERLIN (AP) — Police in Germany said Sunday they discovered more than 110 dangerous snakes on a farm after a woman who lived there sought medical treatment for a poisonous bite. The 35-year-old woman drove to a hospital in Salzgitter, near Hannover, early Sunday and told doctors there that one of her rattlesnakes bit her […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Average US gasoline price drops 4 cents to $5.05 per gallon

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline fell by 4 cents per gallon in the past two weeks to $5.05 for regular grade, it was reported Sunday. It was the first drop in nine weeks and came with a drop in oil prices amid deepening global inflation fears, industry analyst Trilby […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Newspaper: Oklahoma gun deaths rose as firearms access grew

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gun deaths in Oklahoma have increased since a “permitless carry” law allowing people over the age of 21 to carry a gun without a permit or training went into effect in 2019, according to a newspaper’s review of data. The Oklahoman analyzed state medical examiner data and found that Oklahoma has […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia Milorad Dodik watches military ex...
Associated Press

Bosnian Serb leader prays for Trump’s return, praises Putin

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs said Sunday he hoped former U.S. President Donald Trump would return to power and that the Serbs would “wait for appropriate global circumstances” to reach for their goal of seceding from Bosnia, which he called an “unsustainable state.” Milorad Dodik, who was a rare European official […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
On a single Kentucky street, the tornado killed 7 children