Former WYMT Reporter Angela Sparkman Evans remembers March 2, 2012
I will never forget the severe tornado outbreak five years ago and the aftermath covering it.
March 2nd, 2012 started out as a "regular news day." I got a story assignment in Pikeville that day and covered it as I normally would. Later while I was in the Big Sandy Bureau in Harold, the weather got increasingly worse. Whitney Burks Good and I were in the bureau editing our stories and watching Jim Caldwell do the weather as WYMT was on the air continuously due to the severe weather and tornado warnings.
We knew as Jim was talking that it was bad in Morgan County. Whitney and I were scared and decided we needed to leave the bureau because it would not be a safe spot if a tornado hit. We left and went to a safer spot in Pikeville. Just the drive to Pikeville was eerie. It wasn't raining but the wind was bad and everything was gray. I just knew something bad was happening near us. When we got to Pikeville, I heard it was bad in Magoffin County and Johnson County. I immediately started calling everyone I knew in those two counties. I could not reach anyone in Johnson County as we later learned it was because the phone lines were down. I did get in touch with the Salyersville Fire Chief. He was out of breath and said, "we've been hit hard, it's awful here, and I'm trying to rescue some people right now," and he hung up. I remember well the urgency in his voice and knew it was worse than anyone thought at first.
After I relayed that phone call to the WYMT newsroom in Hazard, Neil Middleton wanted us to go to Magoffin and Johnson Counties.
Whitney went to Johnson County and I went to Magoffin County.
The drive from Pikeville to Salyersville was scary. It was dark and the rain was so strong and the wind was bad. I had to stop at the gas station in Ivel just to let some of the wind slow down to drive safely. While there, I met a few people also on their way to Magoffin County to look for loved ones they could not reach on the phone.
Once I was back on the way, the drive on 114 was eerie. I was by myself, and it was pitch black and I had no idea what I would find ahead. It was one of the few times I was really scared while going to a news story.
Once I finally reached Salyersville, I was stopped in traffic on 114. KSP had shut down the road because there was so much debris in it and it wasn't safe for people. Rescue efforts were also underway ahead. I parked on the side of the road and started interviewing people. These people told me harrowing stories of huddling in their basements or other locations and hearing the "freight train sound" as the tornado hit, then coming outside and seeing the destruction. Once the tornado was over, one man told me it looked like "a war zone" because everything was destroyed. I remember how everyone was in disbelief something like this had happened in their town.
A little later, rescue crews let me go further down "Restaurant Row." I will never forget what I saw. I parked next to the Chinese restaurant and could not even recognize all of the buildings on this street because they were destroyed. I had driven by these buildings countless times but could not tell what they were. I remember later sending a picture of the Advance Auto Parts building rubble to the newsroom and Jim Caldwell asked me live on the air what it was, and I honestly did not know because I could not tell.
While I was on Restaurant Row, I watched rescue crews sift through rubble looking for people. I listened to people crying and yelling looking for loved ones they could not reach on the phone. I talked to people crying and distraught because they had lost their home or lost their business.
I had heard the school buildings were damaged or destroyed but I couldn't not even get to that part of town to see because it was too dangerous.
I eventually left Salyersville around midnight to go back to the bureau to edit video and put together stories for the morning news. I stayed up almost all night.
The next day I went back to Salyersville and in daylight it looked much worse. So many people were in shock and disbelief at the destruction. I stood in the rubble of what used to be Subway and was amazed the workers survived. Everything in daylight looked worse and you could truly see the force of the tornado.
In the days and weeks following, I went to Salyersville almost everyday. Even though the destruction was horrible, I remember how many people in Eastern Kentucky and other states came to help. People came to help the victims with whatever they needed. People provided materials and labor to help start rebuilding. It really showed the spirit of the mountains and how everyone helps in time of need.
I moved from the Big Sandy area just a few weeks after the tornadoes hit (the move was planned months before the tornadoes ever hit). When I go back to the Big Sandy area now, I can see how much has been rebuilt or changed since then. However, I know I will never forget that night and I know all who lived through the tornadoes never will forget it either.