When an EF3 tornado ripped through downtown Owensboro on Oct. 18, 2007 — 11 years ago today — it changed everything and nothing all at the same time.
While buildings and businesses were destroyed and several people were injured, no one lost their life in spite of the 155 mile-per-hour winds the tornado brought as it tore through the heart of downtown Owensboro just after 8 p.m. The whirlwind was just one of a dozen tornadoes that descended on the area as a part of an intense line of storms stretching from Tennessee to Southern Indiana.
The tornado uprooted trees, left telephone poles dangling from power lines, flipped cars and demolished roofs, walls and windows. It was on the ground for 6.99 miles, leaving a path 360 yards wide from west to northeast of Owensboro.
Kasey Kirk, now executive chef at The Miller House on Fifth Street, was helping her parents, Larry and Jeanne Kirk, renovate the historic house they had recently purchased to turn it into a restaurant. She was at a friend’s house when she got a call saying, “There’s a tree on the restaurant,” but the giant tree on the front porch was only part of the damage.
“There was literally no wall in the back,” Kirk said. “The only thing standing was the chimney.” French doors and windows were blown out as well, and the project was in danger of ending before it even started.
But Larry Kirk found skilled workers to rebuild the walls with the same historic block the house was built with. As they were repairing the damage, workers found a recipe for molasses pie, which Lizzy Miller, who built the home with her husband Elmer in 1905, was known for making.
The Miller House serves that molasses pie today.
On that same day, 11 years ago, Robin Luttrell had just started her job as housekeeper at the Budget Inn on Third Street. She and her two children were in her apartment at the hotel when the storm hit, but she didn’t hear a thing.
“I didn’t know til I looked outside,” she said.
Her room was in the wing of the hotel that had its roof lifted off by the wind. Water poured into her apartment from the rain. While Luttrell and her children were not hurt, several guests were treated for abrasions, mostly from falling debris.
The damage to the wing was so bad, management had it torn down and never rebuilt.
“It’s still empty over there,” Luttrell said. When she walks through the area, she still has memories of the tornado coming through.
“It was a scary night,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go.”
She and her kids ended up across the street at First Baptist Church, which opened its gym as a shelter and provided showers and food.
“I was thankful I had somewhere to go,” Luttrell said.
She wasn’t sure if she would still have a job after the tornado, but eleven years later, she’s still going strong.
Joe Bob Pierce was attending a Kentucky Council of Churches worship service at Third Baptist Church on Allen Street when someone interrupted the sermon to tell the crowd of about 100 that a tornado was headed right for downtown Owensboro and they needed to go to the basement.
While in the basement, the group began singing a hymn and praying. Pierce said he heard a low rumble and felt his ears pop, and the basement doors flew open.
When they emerged a few minutes later, they faced the reality that the church’s five-story bell tower had collapsed into the sanctuary where the crowd had been sitting.
“It could have been a disaster,” Pierce said.
Third Baptist restored the sanctuary to its original condition, and Pierce, who is now Minister of Spiritual Formation, said the tornado even revitalized and re-energized the congregation, leading a number of people to reconnect with the church.
Eleven years ago, tragedy could have struck. Instead, The Miller House added another chapter to its historic legacy, Robin Luttrell is still taking care of guests at the Budget Inn and Third Baptist Church rebuilt stronger than ever.
Everything — and nothing — changed.