© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

Kentucky family left homeless again by tornado that hit the same location

A couple gathers belongings amid wreckage left by a tornado
George Walker IV/AP
Haley Loukota, left, and her fiance Devin Johnson collect their belongings from storm debris after their home was demolished along Barnsley Loop, Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Madisonville, Ky. A series of powerful storms hit the central and southern U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

A Barnsley man’s life has been uprooted for a second time by a tornado in Kentucky. A twister flattened his home on the same site over the Memorial Day weekend.

BARNSLEY, Ky. (AP) — Devin Johnson, 21, watched Tuesday as workers used chain saws to cut into the wreckage of the trailer he called home with his grandparents and girlfriend. It was an all-too-familiar scene for his family.

Their previous home in the tiny western Kentucky community of Barnsley was destroyed by another tornado during a terrifying night of storms in December 2021 that killed 81 people in the Bluegrass State.

“We never thought that it would happen again,” Johnson said.

Amid all the uncertainty as they start over again, there's one thing they've decided on, he said.

“All we know for sure is we’re not going back here,” Johnson said. "It’s going to have so many memories of us losing everything.”

Barnsley was hit on Sunday by a powerful tornado that packed winds up to 165 mph (266 kph) and tore a destructive path across nearly 36 miles (58 kilometers) of Kentucky, the National Weather Service said.

The region was hit by multiple rounds of severe storms, and damage survey teams were assessing the destruction to determine how many tornadoes touched down. Another powerful storm Sunday barely missed the city of Mayfield, where a painstaking recovery continues from a tornado that hit the town in 2021.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency from the Sunday storms and reported five deaths statewide. The governor toured storm-stricken areas of western Kentucky on Monday.

In Barnsley, the tornado tore through a section of the storm-weary community. A home next to Johnson's trailer was leveled, another was knocked off its foundation and the roof was ripped off another home.

Johnson's family fled before the tornado hit, taking refuge with a relative in nearby Madisonville. Watching weather alerts as the storm barreled toward Barnsley, they had a sinking feeling, he said.

“We just all had that feeling that we just lost everything again,” he said.

Later as he drove back home, emergency vehicles rushed past him. When he turned the corner into his neighborhood, “there was just nothing” as he approached his family's lot.

In 2021, Johnson's family rode out the storm in their trailer. With no basement, Johnson hunkered down in the kitchen, desperately clinging to a table with his grandparents, his sister and her boyfriend. His uncle and aunt put a mattress over themselves in the hallway.

“You start hearing a roar and then the entire house started shaking," he recalled. "The power started flickering and the windows just shattered. And then all of sudden you just feel the wind and pressure and this roar just ripping through the house and it starts tugging on you and trying to drag you out.”

They all emerged unhurt, but the trailer was destroyed. From the wreckage they salvaged some belongings — including a beloved statue of Jesus and Mary that his grandmother had for decades, Johnson said. They recovered some family mementos, including photos.

Johnson's family furnished their new trailer in stages once they scraped together enough money, he said. But after the latest twister, the family's home and belongings were strewn across the neighborhood.

“This time, everything that we have is gone,” he said.

Later in the day, they found an engagement ring that had belonged to his girlfriend's grandmother.

"It’s very meaningful to her because it’s the last memory she has of her grandma,” he said.

His family was insured both times when tragedy struck. But their situation is just as dire as the first time.

“Right now we have no money," Johnson said. "So we’re just trying to figure out how to go next.”

He's staying at a motel in Madisonville, with relatives helping with the expenses.

The plan is to move to Madisonville. He and his girlfriend have put away money since the 2021 storm in hopes of getting their own place, but for now they'll likely live with his grandparents, he said. Johnson has a warehouse job in Madisonville and his girlfriend works at a local factory.

"It’s just been so tight since then with all the bills we had to go through,” he said.

Having seen the immense force of tornadoes, he's longing for a home with a basement.

“We know the power that they’re capable of and how easily they can just take your life,” he said.


Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.