Volunteers help Kentucky tornado survivors celebrate Christmas

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By Daniel Bellamy  with AFP
Volunteers help Kentucky tornado survivors celebrate Christmas
Copyright  Brynn Anderson/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

With the help of volunteers from around the United States, families in western Kentucky celebrated Christmas on Saturday -- two weeks after a string of tornadoes wrought a path of deadly destruction.

"We're just trying to provide Christmas," said Jimmy Finch, a volunteer from the neighbouring state of Tennessee who came to the town of Mayfield the day after the twisters hit.

"I haven't kept a total tally of how many people we have fed," Finch said. "We just encourage everybody to keep coming back."

Under a big yellow tent set up in a parking lot, a volunteer minister group also serves hot food and drinks on a cold, windy Christmas Eve.

"It's a very difficult time for everybody," said Chad Adams, a member of the organisation. "We're trying to make sure everybody eats."

He estimated that they have served over 30,000 meals since the disaster struck, and invited everyone around to keep coming back to have food and hot chocolate.

At other sites, organisations distributed toys to families who have lost everything, hoping to provide some joy amidst the tragedy.

In the nearby town of Benton, Shane Cornwell dressed up as Santa for his volunteer shift at a donation site, where boxes of toys and food lined the walls of the local Elk Lodge.

Outside, volunteers painted Christmas tree ornaments, while local families impacted by the storm collected toys from bins separated by age range.

At least 79 people lost their lives in the tornadoes, which passed through several states from the night of December 10 to the early morning of December 11.

"The scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief," said US president Joe Biden after touring the damage in Mayfield.