Memories of deadly tornado linger like it was yesterday, survivor says
MAYFIELD, Ky. (WKYT) - December 10 marks one year since deadly tornadoes spawned across western and central Kentucky.
81 Kentuckians were killed in the storms, including 24 in Graves County. The town of Mayfield was one of the hardest-hit areas in the region.
In Mayfield, nine of those deaths were at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory on the edge of town. Several people were inside working as the EF-4 tornado collapsed the building.
Chance Pitts was in the building that night. He returned, for the first time since the night he was rescued, to talk with WKYT’s Chad Hedrick about what happened.
All that remains of the Mayfield candle factory is a slab of concrete and mangled metal still in a tree. For Pitts, the memories linger like it was yesterday.
“Thoughts do come up in my head ever so often. Not as much as they did at first,” Pitts said. “A lot of people, I’d like for them to be able to forget about it. But, it ain’t something that’s going to be forgotten. Even if you move away or do whatever, it’s still going to be in the back of your head.”
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There are daily reminders. Pitts is still suffering from injuries from the night of December 10 and still isn’t able to work.
“It’s been a little rough in the last year, with everything going on with medical and all that,” said Pitts.
Many of his co-workers and friends have since left the region after struggling to recover or move forward. Pitts is still working on it himself and is in therapy.
“It’s always going to be a thought in my head. I’m always on edge now when the weather gets just right,” said Pitts. “If it gets really windy or dark, I pay really close attention to the sky. My wife hopes that one day I’ll be okay, but it’s just something that, even in therapy, I’ve been told I’m always gonna have that piece of me.”
Pitts says he keeps in touch with a couple of his former coworkers, but, much like the tornado, they are long gone. He doesn’t really come around Mayfield that often anymore, either.
Over the last year, he’s come to terms more with what happened and is looking to brighter days.
“I guess I’m not as mad about what happened that night as what I used to be. I used to be furious about it,” Pitts said. “Family and friends have been an important thing. They’ve helped me a lot this year.”
Originally, the candle factory was not going to reopen after it was destroyed. However, that decision was reversed in June and the company says it would invest $33 million and employ more than 500 people over the next five years.
That work is supposed to be finished by the end of 2023. Pitts says he will not go back to work for the company.
Recently, learned of a second lawsuit filed by employees who say their jobs were threatened if they left that night as storms approached.
Attorneys representing the 10 employees who filed the suit say it mirrors a filing by other employees in March alleging false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In June, an OSHA investigation lead to $40,000 in fines for numerous safety violations.
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