Biden surveys tornado damage in Kentucky as affected communities continue cleanup efforts

It has been five days since tornadoes shattered towns, killing 88 people across Kentucky and neighboring states. President Joe Biden visited the region today to survey the damage and aid efforts. Stephanie Sy reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we move from economic recovery to tornado recovery.

    It has been five days since twisters shattered towns and killed 88 people across Kentucky and neighboring states. Another person died today of a heart attack while cleaning up storm debris. That came as the region got a presidential visit.

    Stephanie Sy reports.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The scope of destruction was on full display as President Biden traveled to Western Kentucky to see for himself.

    Five tornadoes blasted the region last Friday, including one that cut a roughly 200-mile-long path. The president began his visit meeting with local leaders at Fort Campbell and commenting on how the tragedy was uniting communities.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: There's no red tornadoes or blue tornadoes. There's no red states or blue states when this stuff starts to happen.

    And I think, at least in my experience, it either brings people together or it really knocks them apart. And they are moving together here.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said more than 600 members of the National Guard are assisting in the 18 counties that were hit.

  • Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY):

    It's something that feels pretty therapeutic. We're actually hauling some of this debris out of town, hauling a little bit of that chaos and devastation and death out of town.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    From Fort Campbell, Biden visited the town of Mayfield, which was almost all flattened.

    Melinda Gouin is one of dozens of now-homeless tornado victims staying at this community shelter.

    Melinda Gouin, Resident of Mayfield, Kentucky: Three minutes, you walk outside, your town doesn't even look like a town anymore. It's nothing but rubble, you know?

    Some of those buildings, they carry your story. They carry your memories. And they're on the ground. There's nothing left of them. It's heartbreaking to see that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Ray McReynolds' apartment complex for seniors in downtown Mayfield is also gone.

    Ray McReynolds, Resident of Mayfield, Kentucky: Everybody lost everything. The worst thing we need about now is, we need money, because we don't have no place to live, and we don't have the money to rent another place.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Seventy miles northeast of Mayfield, a similar story in Dawson Springs. Some 75 percent of the town was destroyed, and it may be a month before residents and businesses get their electricity back.

    To make matters worse, a third of the 2, 500 residents fall below the poverty line, and many don't have insurance.

  • Joe Biden:

    With the shock of losing a home and business, the grief of losing someone, it's happening right before the holidays, as I said. And we're going to make sure that you have all the help you need.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    For every tale of grief emerges a story of giving.

    Reina Guerra Perez has opened her small home to no less than five families.

    Reina Guerra Perez, Resident of Mayfield, Kentucky (through translator): There are 26 of us sheltered in my house. Some of them are out helping, but they're all back by the afternoon after they help clean up the destruction with some neighbors' houses.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Her home survived, but she doesn't have water or electricity. What they do have, she says, is each other.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

Listen to this Segment