In the days after a tornado tore a path of destruction through Bowling Green, Ky., Rochelle Finkton held out hope. She was already dealing with the news that the tornado on Dec. 10 had killed her sister Rachel Brown, along with Ms. Brown’s husband, Steven Brown, three of their four children and the children’s grandmother, Victoria Smith.
One child, Nyssa Brown, 13, was unaccounted for, and Ms. Finkton thought that maybe, somehow, her niece was in a hospital somewhere, or had received shelter from the Salvation Army, she said.
On Thursday, Ms. Finkton was notified that Nyssa’s body had been found. Reached on Saturday and still overcome with grief, she said she was relieved that the authorities had found her niece, “so that we could have closure. For all of them to go home.”
Nyssa Brown was also the final victim to be recovered in Bowling Green.
Officials in Kentucky reported 77 fatalities statewide on Friday with just one person still missing after several tornadoes devastated the state a week ago. The storm spawned one single tornado in particular that traveled nearly 164 miles through Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service. Overall, tornadoes in five states killed at least 90 people that night.
“It looks like a war zone,” said Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower, about the destruction in Bowling Green, where 16 people died during the tornado and an additional resident died from an apparent heart attack while clearing debris. “There’s rubble, there’s debris, there’s trees down, there’s guttering, there’s bricks, businesses that have been boarded up now, shattered glass.
Powerful Storms in the U.S.
Violent weather swept across the central and southern United States in mid-December, killing dozens and leaving a trail of destruction.
“It went really through the heart of our community,” he added.
The tornado reached speeds as high as 150 miles per hour as it shredded a path from Moss Creek Avenue, where the Brown family lived in a small but comfortable house, through the center of town.
On Saturday, Ms. Finkton said that the magnitude of the losses of her sister, brother-in-law, stepmother and nieces and nephews — Nariah Cayshelle Brown, 16; Nyssa Brown; Nolynn Brown, 8; and Nyles Brown, 4 — was just fully dawning on her.
“I’m just at a loss for words right now, because it just now really hit me,” she said, as she prepared to travel from her home in Indianapolis to Bowling Green for the funeral on Tuesday.
She said the pain was made even greater by the fact that she won’t be able to see her sister’s body or be able to save anything from the house, which was blown apart.
“Their house was completely destroyed down to the foundation,” said Sheriff Hightower.
“I don’t think anything was really salvaged because of the way it hit — it just blew everything,” Ms. Finkton said.
She and Ms. Brown (who spelled her first name as Rachael on social media) were close, she said, despite living hours apart. They would talk on the phone every other day, Ms. Finkton said. Sometimes Ms. Brown would call, upset about an issue within the family. “She just tried to help everybody. That’s the type of person she was,” Ms. Finkton said.
She said her sister was known as a happy person who loved her children, her husband and her mother, who was sick and whom Ms. Brown cared for. The family was close, Ms. Finkton said, and enjoyed going on outings and cooking together, especially on holidays, when they would cook ribs, beans, fried corn, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese from scratch.
“They just did family things — I mean it wasn’t much, but the things that they did, they made it awesome, and she always had a smile on her face,” Ms. Finkton said. “Even if they just went to the park, it was a family thing.”