That Breeana Glisson and her two children are still alive after a tornado tore through Dawson Springs, Kentucky, on Friday night seems like a miracle.
With tornado sirens wailing, Glisson wrapped her daughter, 2, and son, 4, in her arms in her bed – the most interior part of her home – to ride out the storm. The roof collapsed, crushing her right arm.
“And then, after that, in a millisecond, we were no longer in the bed or in our house. We were on the ground all the way up there somewhere,” Glisson said Sunday, her voice shaking as she pointed to an area perhaps 200 feet away.
“When I opened my eyes and looked around. I had no idea where I was. None,” she said. “All I could do was stand up and scream for help and try to find someone to help me and my kids.”
Glisson’s arm was broken, her head injured and face bruised. Her house was destroyed. But she is alive, and her children were miraculously unhurt.
“It’s insane. I can’t believe that me and my kids are OK,” Glisson said, standing amid the concrete and wood rubble that was her now completely devastated neighborhood. “I can’t believe that there’s no broken bones on my children. It’s crazy.”
“I think being on the mattress saved us because for the most part of flying through the air, we weren’t just flying through the air, we were on the bed,” she said.
Among the some 30 tornadoes reported in eight states Friday night, at least four tore through Kentucky, destroying whole towns. About 75% of Dawson Springs was wiped out, according to Mayor Chris Smiley. More than 100 people of the town’s some 2,500 have been reported missing, said Nick Bailey, director of emergency management in the county.
And “hundreds and hundreds” of those who survived no longer have a home, Bailey said.
“We’re hoping FEMA comes in here and tries to set up something here,” Smiley told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday. “We are a small town … So, it’s gonna be hard to find a place to put the temporary housing and stuff.”
President Joe Biden is expected to visit the area on Wednesday.
Thirteen people were killed in Hopkins County, according to the coroner, and at least five of them were in Glisson’s neighborhood, including two elderly sisters, who lived next door to her.
“My children loved them,” said Glisson, who appeared to be still stunned from the trauma of that night. “We talked to them every day.”
Glisson, her two children and her mother are now in a motel room, an expense that’s eating into the little savings the family had. Friends have donated some nights there, and they have been given blankets and food. “But we have nowhere to go,” Glisson said.
Glisson is a stay-at-home mom, with two children who need her full-time attention. Her son is severely autistic and has a long list of other diagnoses, she said. Along with friends and volunteers, she was still searching the rubble Sunday for his medication, which he desperately needs to sleep.
“He takes it every single night to go to sleep. He has sleep disorders. And if he doesn’t have the medicine, he won’t sleep. It’s a nightmare,” Glisson said, her voice breaking. “I’m telling you it is a nightmare. Nobody can sleep if my son’s crying all night.”
Glisson, 26, and so many others in Dawson Springs have no clear path for rebuilding. According to the mayor, about a third of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. The median average household income is just over $25,000, according to the US Census Bureau.
“There’s going to be a lot that don’t have insurance,” Smiley said. “They live month-to-month on a Social Security check or whatever they can get. They’re all good people.”
Glisson wasn’t optimistic her family would spring back at all.
“My whole house is gone. We have no house insurance,” she said. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to recover from it.”
Walking through the ruins of her street, Glisson ran into a man who helped her and her children emerge from the rubble and seek shelter in his basement immediately after the storm hit. As he hugs her, she breaks down, sobbing.
“Thank you for helping us,” she said.
“That’s what we do,” the man answered.
Ed Lavandera and Ashley Killough reported from Kentucky. Theresa Waldrop reported and wrote from Atlanta.