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Small towns in the Midwest are coming together to deal with storm damage


Madisonville is one of a number of towns in Kentucky dealing with the devastation left by storms earlier this weekend. These storms resulted in no fewer than 30 tornadoes and dozens of dead across several states, especially Kentucky. Kevin Cotton is the mayor of Madisonville, and he joins us now. Mr. Mayor, thank you for taking the time.

KEVIN COTTON: Good morning, Don. Thank you very much for reaching out to us.

GONYEA: We spoke to another Madisonville official yesterday, but I know you've been assessing damage even further afield, to nearby Dawson Springs as well. Is the devastation pretty consistent throughout that part of Western Kentucky?

COTTON: Absolutely, it is. The community of Dawson Springs has had close to about two-thirds of their community that has just been devastated and wiped out. Houses are no longer where they stood. There's apartment complexes that are destroyed. Their small businesses, their industry - the community of Dawson Springs has been impacted. It's unrecognizable at this point.

GONYEA: How our towns across your county and the state, as best you can tell, working together at this stage?

COTTON: It has been unbelievable to see the amount of support that is coming into the community. And the city of Madisonville has been blessed to have very, very minor damage, and we've been able to redirect a lot of our resources into those communities. But to see the other communities and other states that are coming in with resources to help has just - it's been a blessing. It's been unbelievable - truly showing the American spirit where we are standing up with each other to help each other in such a horrible time.

GONYEA: As best you can tell right now, what assistance from the state and the federal government is needed?

COTTON: When you wipe out two-thirds of a community, the utilities are gone. The housing is gone. The jobs are gone. So it is going to take a significant amount of resources from the federal government in order to help this community to rebuild. The state is already mobilizing and has already mobilized as of last night the National Guard into the community just to kind of be a support to help out where they're needed. The federal government is coming in today to do the assessment. And the key is being able to turn things quickly and get them the help that they need in a very timely manner so that we can get it rebuilt.

GONYEA: Clearly there's an immediate need, but long-term support will be needed as well.

COTTON: Absolutely. Again, any time that you take out the amount of devastation and destruction that you see in this community, it is - the infrastructure is going to have to be replaced, from water, sewer, power and natural gas. They've shut the natural gas off to the entire community at this point. The industrial piece of this - you know, those jobs - we're going to need those jobs back to help support that community. And housing is going to be the No. 1 need for this community immediately as there's just not a lot of places for them to go.

GONYEA: The governor, Governor Beshear, visited Dawson Springs yesterday. It was the hometown of his father, who was also governor. What did he have to say?

COTTON: No. 1, he's heartbroken. And he's not just heartbroken for this community; he's heartbroken for all of Kentuckians. He has expressed his immediate concerns and support and has said that these communities have his full support of the state. And I believe that. I believe that he is going to give every resource that he has in order to give these communities what they need and to reach out for everything that he can to help them.

GONYEA: Today we're looking at the morning after the morning after. Is the goal still search and rescue?

COTTON: It is. That's our immediate goal this morning. We do have several K-9 units that will be going through to help us with that search. There are houses that are a block and a half away from where they were standing previously. So as we're trying to sift through the debris, that is where we're able to find additional rescues and recoveries.

GONYEA: That's Mayor Kevin Cotton of Madisonville, Ky. Thank you so much for making the time, and please stay safe.

COTTON: Don, thank you very much for the opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.