A search for hope in the saved things is what took place in Mayfield's ruins

WINGO (Ky.) -- She was sobbing when she arrived at the shelter. Everything in her house had been destroyed. Victoria ByerlyZuck called her neighbors and begged them to go through the wreckage in search of the one thing she couldn't bear to lose.

A search for hope in the saved things is what took place in Mayfield's ruins

It was about the same size as a medicine cabinet. Inside was all that was left of her infant son, who died four years earlier: his cremated ashes and his photos.

This shelter was set up by other victims of the tornado that decimated their small Mayfield town. Their downtown was destroyed. Many houses were reduced to rubble. They lost their cars, wallets and clothes.

There are more than 100 survivors at Wingo's church, which opened in the hours following the tornado. No one knows how long it can stay open. A widow of 82 years asked volunteers for their help. They told her she could stay as long as she wanted.

Byerly-Zuck’s 3-year-old son tried to climb into every car that passed by this shelter.

She said, "He wants home." He is autistic and nonverbal. She doesn't know what to do to get him to understand that he doesn't have one.

The storm had roared in after they'd been at their Mayfield rental house alone. She placed pillows in the tub and laid her son on top. She grabbed a bag of diapers and wipes as the windows cracked. She didn't realize that these items she had rushed to select would be all they had.

She returned to the bathroom, closing the door as the tree fell from the roof and fell into her home. She tried to balance herself so that her son wouldn't be crushed beneath her, and climbed up onto the edge of a tub.

She begged God to save her: "Please let's get through this. I don't care what you think. All other things can be replaced, but he cannot be replaced."

She had buried a baby once before and could only think that she would never do it again. She was pregnant in 2017, learned that she was carrying a baby boy, and chose a name. Her water broke the next day and doctors couldn't save her baby. His lungs were not developed and he was prematurely born at 22 weeks. He died after he gasped for air. She remembers that moment every day.

It's too much. It's impossible. She said, "I just got my one-son now."

He lay in the tub while the storm passed and she realized that they were trapped. The bathroom door was blocked by debris and a fallen tree. She was choking and crying, but couldn't shout for help. She made a hole in the drywall and switched on the flashlight to indicate that someone was there. They were rescued by the National Guard.

She wrapped the last Christmas gift she had bought for her son, a $300 value of presents. They fled their destroyed home and all that was left were the bathroom they had used, and one other room. All those presents were now under rubble.

Later that night, a neighbor called her to inform her of the destruction of the rest the house had suffered. She begged them to find the box containing her baby's ashes.

They are now surrounded by rows upon rows of cots, and strangers. They enjoy playing together at the pool table that the church has set up for the now-homeless children. People in their 80s and nineties, babies, and dogs are all present, as well as a baby named Jingles.

Volunteers scrambled Monday afternoon to put up more cots as they anticipated that 40 more people would be able to use the shelters that had sprung up after the storm. They never intended to provide shelters for everyone, but were unable to refuse anyone.

A trailer from a health care company was parked on the lot. Because they fear this may be the only solution long-term for many of those displaced, they are looking for an outdoor shower facility as well as a laundry truck. Volunteers scramble around. One volunteer said, "I have two that need undergarments." "Do you have socks?"

Byerly-Zuck’s son is used a routine. He goes to bed at eight p.m. and takes a nap in afternoon. He's having trouble falling asleep. He won't go to bed, and he wouldn't sleep on the cot with them until Sunday night. She worries about the effects of all this uncertainty on him.

He is close to his grandfather who is in Nashville recovering from the collapse of his home. Their neighbor was killed. Others they knew in nearby apartments have gone missing.

She said that she would need therapy following this. "We will all need therapy," she explained. They share stories about the horrors they have survived and those they don't.

She answers many of their future questions the same way. She is desperate and sad. She doesn't even own a driver's licence anymore. But she pretends she's not scared to keep her son safe.

She said, "He's all that I have." "We lost everything."

She thinks they will spend Christmas at the shelter.

All she can think of is to pray.

She said that there was one blessing: A neighbor called Sunday night to say they had found the box containing her baby's ashes in the rubble.

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