‘Never seen anything like it’: Philly area nonprofits deploy to Kentucky after deadly tornadoes

People retrieve items from a destroyed law office

People retrieve items from a destroyed law office Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Mayfield, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A bevy of workers, volunteers, and National Guard members have deployed to Kentucky to help with disaster recovery efforts after deadly tornadoes ripped through that state and five others over the weekend.

The tornado outbreak killed at least 88 people, 74 of them in Kentucky. As of Tuesday morning, about 26,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, including nearly all of those in Mayfield.

Among those lending a hand are nonprofits from across the Delaware Valley, including the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is providing food and shelter for displaced residents.

Dave Skutnik, regional communications director of the Philadelphia office, told WHYY News that the devastation is beyond belief.

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Destruction in downtown Mayfield is seen in an aerial photo
In this aerial photo, destruction in downtown Mayfield, Ky. is seen Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the region. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“They have never seen anything like it,” Skutnik said of the volunteers on the ground. “These are veterans. One of our volunteers, he’s been to 18 different national disasters over the past few years and says it’s one of the worst disasters he’s seen.”

Complicating the normal shelter setup is the coronavirus pandemic, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise, and the United States approaches 800,000 virus-related deaths.

“We have to make some extra precautions in our shelters, mask use is required,” Skutnik said. “We can’t cram 100 or 200 people in a gym, so we have more shelters open. We have spread people out and keep them as safe as possible.”

When Brandywine Valley SPCA (BVSPCA) saw the devastation on Saturday, it teamed up with the ASPCA and Kentucky Humane Society (KHS) to identify how it could best help.

“As soon as we saw the impact, we started planning, knowing there would be a significant need for help,” said Adam Lamb, BVSPCA CEO. “These are the times we all need to come together for both pets and their people.”

A person holds up a treat for a puppy in a kennel
Animal welfare organizations in Kentucky expect to support lost and displaced pets as recovery efforts continue. (BVSPCA)

The trio decided the best course of action would be to quickly empty KHS, enabling the shelter to accept pets from Mayfield — which suffered some of the worst damage — and other communities in need.

By Sunday, BVSPCA’s rescue bus hit the road to pick up 75 animals.

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Susan Anderson, director of disaster response for the ASPCA National Field Response Team, called the evacuations a lifesaving aspect of the emergency response effort. “It gives the shelter animals a second chance to find loving homes while freeing up critical resources for pets in impacted communities,” Anderson said in a statement.

Two people standing outside a rescue bus each hold up a dog
The Brandywine Valley SPCA’s rescue team evacuated 75 animals from Kentucky in the wake of the deadly tornadoes. (BVSPCA)

The animal welfare organizations expect to support lost and displaced pets in the coming days as recovery efforts continue.

The 40 dogs and 35 cats, who were transported to BVSPCA’s Animal Rescue Center in Georgetown, Delaware, were available for adoption in Kentucky before the tornadoes. Starting Wednesday, the pets will be available for adoption through BVSPCA locations, as well as some local BVSPCA partners.

As residents, government officials, and humanitarian organizations continue to assess the damage, many are soliciting help.

The Red Cross encouraged people to donate toward disaster relief efforts, as well as schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets, online.

The BVSPCA asked the community to consider volunteering, fostering, donating, and/or adopting to support its rescue mission.

WHYY News’ Tom MacDonald contributing reporting.

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