FRANKFORT, Ky. — Tornado-relief legislation sailed through the Kentucky Legislature on Wednesday, offering an immediate round of aid for schools and residents left homeless by the deadly storms last month.
More rounds of assistance will be forthcoming, lawmakers said in responding to the December storms that devastated communities in western Kentucky and elsewhere in the state.
Some legislators spoke of their own harrowing experiences hunkering down with loved ones when the storms struck. The storm’s death toll reached 77 in Kentucky.
“This is going to be a long recovery process,” Rep. Michael Meredith said. “And these funds that we’re making available today will be used over and over again in our communities to help people get back to some semblance of normal in their lives.”
The relief measure, put on a fast track by Republican legislative leaders, includes $200 million of assistance requested by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The legislation first cleared the House, followed by Senate passage a short time later to send the bill to the governor.
The bill will pump an initial $45 million into communities, with $15 million for temporary housing and $30 million for schools. More rounds of aid will be allocated later for other recovery needs.
Lawmakers described scenes of flattened homes and businesses in their districts. Sen. Robby Mills said the storms caused “complete devastation.” The most immediate need in the relief effort is providing temporary housing for people whose homes were destroyed, he said.
“While these are not permanent solutions, they are solutions that help stabilize these families and help keep them located in these fragile communities,” Mills said.
The school aid will be used to repair damaged schools and for such services as after-school programs, mental health counseling and transportation for displaced students.
Lawmakers from stricken counties thanked emergency personnel and utility workers for their response after the storms hit. They spoke of the scores of volunteers, many from outside Kentucky, who descended on crippled communities to help in the relief effort.
“They helped lift our spirits during a time that each of us felt devastated,” said Rep. Myron Dossett.
Dossett recalled huddling with his wife and their granddaughter as the storm approached.
“My wife and I sat our granddaughter between us and both wrapped our arms around her and we prayed,” he said.
He described the sounds of the storm: “I heard wind, rain, breaking glass. Our house shook.”
His yard, which had 14 large trees standing before the storm, now has four, Dossett said. Their home sustained damage but is being repaired.
“I was thankful when my wife called me yesterday morning at 8 o’clock and she said there was hammering going on on our roof because they were replacing our roof,” he said.