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Kentucky native on losing his home in deadly tornadoes

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There is a Facebook group called Quad State Tornado Found Items where people have been posting pictures of stuff that they found after deadly tornadoes ransacked the South and Central U.S. a week and a half ago. That is where we found Matthew Brazill (ph) of Bremen, Ky.

MATTHEW BRAZILL: Just scrolling through Facebook, and I think someone tagged me in a post that had a picture of - I believe it was me and my mom.

CHANG: Matt Brazill told us his family evacuated just minutes before the storms leveled their house, totaled their truck and killed their two dogs. A few days later, people were posting Brazill's family photos, which were found as far away as Louisville, two hours away by car, and across the border in Indiana.

BRAZILL: We just couldn't believe that they traveled that far. We've talked to some storm chasers, and they said the debris reached over 40,000 feet.

CHANG: What does it feel like to be staring at these photos that have traveled so far and then have traveled back to you?

BRAZILL: Well, it's just surreal at first that they traveled that far, but then you have some digital copies, but to actually see those items and be able to go pick them up or have them sent to you, it just gives you some of your memories back, you know, to actually be able to see it and hold it. It just means a lot.

CHANG: Yeah. Can we just step back for a moment? Can we talk about, how is your family doing right now?

BRAZILL: We're doing very good. We've been really blessed. We didn't lose anyone. We're all safe. We have a place to stay with my parents for as long as we need to. We're doing great, all things considered.

CHANG: I'm glad to hear that. What happened to your home in Bremen, Ky., where you had been staying?

BRAZILL: So we were directly hit by the tornado. It's completely gone. There wasn't even debris where the house was. We literally had just dirt and cinder blocks and the sidewalk left, so it was just completely wiped away. You can't even recognize it if you live there and know what the whole neighborhood looks like. Now, it's just like a bomb went off.

CHANG: What have you personally taken away from this experience about community, about surviving? Can you talk about that?

BRAZILL: No. 1, to take storms seriously. We almost did not leave. We had about 25 minutes before it hit when we left. And we barely decided to leave. But yeah, the community is just awesome. I mean, donations of clothes. I mean, you walk into the local elementary school and it's like walking into Walmart. Whatever you need is there right now. People donating their time, equipment, calling you, checking on you, offering Christmas presents for your kids.

CHANG: Wait. And I also understand, aren't you connecting to us right now from Florida, where you are on a vacation that has been donated to you by someone, right?

BRAZILL: Yes. We're staying in St. George Island, Fla. A woman named Christa Miller (ph) that was a victim of a hurricane in 2018, Hurricane Michael, she wanted to reach out and bless a family and kind of get them away from everything.

CHANG: That is amazing.

BRAZILL: And while we's (ph) at the elementary school getting some supplies the other day, they pulled us in and said, would you all like to go, you know, for over a week to Florida for free? She - you know, taking care of us, is going to take us out on a fishing charter. It's been awesome.

CHANG: That's just incredible. Well, I don't want to take any more time from your vacation. I do hope that you and your family have a chance to restore a little bit and find some peace in your hearts before you head back to Kentucky.

BRAZILL: Thank you so much.

CHANG: That is Matthew Brazill of Bremen, Ky. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. Best of luck to you.

BRAZILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.