Tornado-hit communities brace for long-term mental health, financial impact of disaster

Search teams, utility crews and property owners have spent another long day in the tornado wreckage that was strewn across five states last weekend. The confirmed death toll remains at 88 — most of them in western Kentucky. William Brangham reports from the ground.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Search teams, utility crews, and property owners have spent another long day in the tornado wreckage that was strewn across five states last weekend.

    The confirmed death toll remains at 88, most of them in Western Kentucky.

    William Brangham is there, and begins our coverage again tonight.

  • William Brangham:

    The power's still out in much of Mayfield, Kentucky, so volunteers fold the tide of clothing that's been donated to victims by candlelight.

    Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell was the mayor of Mayfield for many years. She now works at this local charitable foundation.

    Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell, Former Mayor of Mayfield, Kentucky: We're still wrapping our head around it, you know? And you stand there. I stood there last night where the City Hall was. And I have been up there before.

  • William Brangham:

    Was.

  • Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell:

    Was, yes.

    And I looked across, I'm trying to — it's — there's such devastation that you can't even picture what was there. But, going forward, honestly, I can't wrap my head around what the challenges are.

  • William Brangham:

    Elsewhere in Mayfield, at the candle factory where at least eight people died, several factory employees told NBC News that they wanted to leave before the tornadoes arrived, but said supervisors threatened to fire them if they did.

    The owner of the factory, Mayfield Consumer Products, said that was — quote — "absolutely untrue." Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said today they will get to the bottom of what happened.

  • Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY):

    And everybody's expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety, and of being decent human beings. And I hope everybody lived up to those standards. You can expect a state agency to be taking a look.

  • William Brangham:

    Meanwhile, in Illinois, OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is investigating the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville that killed six people.

    OSHA will look into whether workplace safety rules were followed. It'll have six months to complete the investigation.

    President Biden has now declared a federal disaster in that state as well.

    Back in Mayfield…

  • Chuck Foster, Tornado Survivor:

    This is the front door right here.

  • William Brangham:

    So, where was your office?

  • Chuck Foster:

    That corner right over there. That's my desk right there.

  • William Brangham:

    Local attorney Chuck Foster set up his law practice on this downtown corner 25 years ago. It's completely gone. He said a small army of people keep showing up, helping him clean up and sort through the wreckage.

  • Chuck Foster:

    At one time, we had 25 volunteers in here just moving stuff around here and cleaning stuff up. And we had three — two or three different groups come with sandwiches and food and water. So, everybody chipped in and tried to help out.

  • William Brangham:

    That's a beautiful thing.

  • Chuck Foster:

    It is. It kind of gives you a sense of pride and a sense of community, I guess, when something like that happens to everybody pick up and try to help you out, people we didn't even know. We met a lot of people yesterday for the first time.

  • William Brangham:

    Brand-new friends, right?

  • Chuck Foster:

    Oh, yes.

  • William Brangham:

    Former Mayor Rochetti-Cantrell says the outpouring of love and support and donations are so appreciated, but she's worried about the deeper, long-term impacts.

  • Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell:

    I think there's going to be huge, people who were maybe down on their luck to start with, and then this…

  • William Brangham:

    Right, blow after blow.

  • Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell:

    And just wrapping your head around what's happened. I mean, I just think that's going to be a big deal. All the things that you have to do, some of these people don't know how to do that and aren't capable of doing that.

  • William Brangham:

    All the paperwork, all the insurance, all the bills, all the tax loans, all of that stuff.

  • Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell:

    Mind-boggling. I predict suicides. I do. I hate to think that way.

    But there's just some people that can't handle this. There are some people that just cannot mentally handle this. And I think we're going to be dealing with some of that in the coming days, months, years.

  • William Brangham:

    As daunting as it may seem, the cleanup and the rebuilding after this disaster may be the easy part. It is this deeper trauma that the former mayor is describing, that could be a scar that this tragedy leaves on this community for years to come.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham in Mayfield, Kentucky.

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