Nuclear Workers Help Fellow Kentuckians Recover After Massive Tornado

Local 550 members at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant are helping those who lost everything after a huge tornado and other storms churned through western Kentucky the night of Dec. 10.

The tornado killed at least 77 people in Kentucky and left a trail of debris across a large swath of the region. While it did not claim the lives of any Local 550 members or retirees, at least one person lost a relative in the storm.

In the wake of the tornado, Local 550’s membership voted to donate up to $5,000 for disaster relief, and members are using vacation time and paid time off to help with clean-up efforts and to aid those who were displaced.

What’s left after a monster tornado tore through Kentucky.  Photo by USW Local 727-00 member Wade Kennedy.

Greg Enlow, a Local 550 member, took off work for the rest of the year. His Mayfield, Ky., house missed the mile-wide, 190 m.p.h. twister by two blocks, but he understands that the entire community will have to rally behind those who were less fortunate.

“I’m trying to help people out where I can and get things back to normal as quickly as possible,” Enlow said. “It was pretty chaotic all of Friday night and half-a-day on Saturday.”

Early in the morning of Dec. 11, he called his family and the union members he works with to check on them and see what they needed. He also wired up generators for people and checked on others to see if they needed water and food.

Enlow said that several union members were on the ground early Saturday morning to bring water and other aid.

“I was overwhelmed how the membership took care of people, me especially,” he said. “The volunteers that first day were essential because no one else was here.”

The tornado destroyed Enlow’s daughter-in-law’s business in Mayfield, and he lost a vehicle because the storm destroyed the auto shop where it was being repaired. “I was very fortunate, and thank God every day,” he said.

Twenty-five-year Local 550 member Ike Murphy, who is also a full-time preacher, took in people to his church’s community center in Mayfield, fed them and took care of them for five days until he and his volunteers relocated people to the state park lodges.

“We had a lot of homeless folk without power, water…it was total devastation,” Murphy said.

The Red Cross brought cots and Mayfield stores donated mattresses for people to sleep on. Murphy and his volunteers fed over 120 people three times a day with donated supplies from food companies, and ran buses in the morning and evening to the church for people to get showers. Now, Murphy’s focus is on expanding his church’s food pantry to twice a week.

“I’m thankful I work in a facility that had people who donated vacation time to me so I could help others,” Murphy said. “We haven’t done anything heroic. We did what the Lord wanted us to do.”

Jeff Wiggins, secretary-treasurer of the Kentucky AFL-CIO and a member of USW 9447-4, is working full time helping tornado victims, including coordinating with the national AFL-CIO to get needed personnel on the ground. He and Gerald Adkins, who works with the state AFL-CIO, helped Local 550 retiree Ray Coffee salvage what little remained of his home. Coffee, his wife and grandchildren huddled in the basement as the tornado ripped apart the house.

“It’s Christmas time and you can’t give enough to help out,” Wiggins said.

Those who would like to help fellow union members impacted by the storms can go to https://ky.aflcio.org/disaster. You can also help by writing a check to the USW Charitable and Educational Organization, writing “Disaster Relief” in the check memo line and mailing it to: United Steelworkers, Attn: Steelworkers Charitable Fund, 60 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

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