News and Observer photography: Friday, July 27

Police cars with flashing lights were still on the road early Friday evening, but they were mostly just a precaution.

“We haven’t been through anything like this before,” one officer said from the darkened streets of Rylee, Kentucky. “We’ve all been on tornado drills.”

Down the street, a country music concert was in progress in the New Rylee Event Center. With the theatre a safe distance away, many people watching from the amphitheater’s balcony thought they were safe, too.

“When I stood up, I saw trees flying everywhere,” said Vicky Stone, who was with her family.

Just then, an announcement came over the speakers. “Everyone get down,” the announcer said. “The building is secure.”

The building is not secure. The promenade outside is not secure. The amphitheater is not secure.

The storm went on for an hour and a half, making as much noise as it was tearing up. As the night went on, it grew more and more intense. People were running for shelter, cowering under their desks in classrooms, swimming around pool tables trying to catch each other with their hands, covered in bath towels. Cellphone service was out, and most everyone was without electricity.

Related Article: Tornado Spotters Can Kill Themselves

As the sirens sounded for the third time, residents of a small town in Kentucky realized that they had escaped a tornado.

“God gave us a break,” said one woman, her face still incredibly clean after a shower of glass. “This is unbelieveable.”

“I’d give anything to be back here where it started,” said the woman’s granddaughter, who was helping to clean up.

“I just feel so blessed,” said another woman in a long-sleeved blue T-shirt and ripped jeans. Her hair was in a high ponytail and she was wearing very little makeup. “And I’ve got wonderful children.”

Shortly before midnight, there was a lull in the storm, and the town’s two hospitals began resuming normal operations. Doctors and nurses and medical professionals were ushered outside to begin working.

“Look at these cute little town houses. I’ve got to tell you, these were originally public housing,” said Dr. Jonathan Austin. “It’s sad. They’re such beautiful houses. It’s a shame.”

Doctors treated many people with minor injuries, and some more serious. Most were treated and released, but one patient remained in the hospital Thursday afternoon, and another was kept overnight for observation.

When Doctors Without Borders moved into the city four years ago, and brought with them a free clinic, the doctors there thought they would make great recruits. In this aftermath, they are rethinking their plans.

“There’s a lot of folks out here in need who would be interested in coming to work for us,” said Teresa Murray, a radiologist who is volunteering at the clinic. “They just need another bed and they need another face. They would be very welcome.”

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Bruce Liddy is the editor of the News and Observer in Lexington, Kentucky. His last book was published in 2000, and his most recent is Montana Sports Illustrated. You can read more about him and the book here.

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