Kentucky hotelier describes night of tornado terror

AAHOA members preparing to send aid to the impacted area

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Cardinal Motel in Mayfield
The Cardinal Motel in Mayfield, Kentucky, incurred severe damage during a series of tornadoes that hit the area before dawn on Saturday. The motel’s owner for 22 years, Paresh Desai, was in the hotel with his family, all of whom survived with little harm. A statue of a cardinal, for which the hotel was named, also survived the storm.

AT 1 A.M. SATURDAY, Paresh Desai and his family were safe in bed in their apartments at the Cardinal Motel in Mayfield, Kentucky, where they had lived for 22 years. One hour later, they were fighting for their lives as a historic system of tornadoes tore the roof off the entire building.

The storm, now believed to have killed 88 people across five states according to media reports, came without warning, Desai said. He was with his wife, Mitali, who is seven months pregnant, their 16-year-old daughter and his mother and father, both in their 70s.

It came out of the dark

Around 1:30 a.m., Desai received an alert for the severe weather, so he woke up and began watching as the storm worsened. Then he went to wake the others, starting with his wife.

“As soon as my wife stood up and we tried to get my daughter from the room, the roof was gone,” he said.

The hotel’s windows also blew out as rain began pouring in. Desai’s parents were calling from the other room where the roof remained partially intact.

“The roof was completely open in my area,” Desai said. “We got wet, it was a heavy rain and cold. I tried to call 911 but there was no power so we were really scared and at that time we didn’t know what to do.”

Using the flashlight app on his phone for light, Desai managed to get his wife and daughter to a bathroom where they could be safe. He flagged down a passing police officer and asked her to check on the eight guests he had in the motel at the time.

Then he called his sister, who lived about seven miles away, as the storm continued.

“My niece and my brother-in-law came, they know where to come from the backside so they came and dropped their pickup truck about block or block in half away and then they walked from there to the property and got us out,” Desai said. “We all walked in heavy rains and get in the pickup truck and then we came back home had my sister’s.”

Now Desai has just begun working with his insurance company to cover the damage, which is extensive. There was one part of the hotel still standing with almost no damage: a large statue of a cardinal, Kentucky’s state bird for which the independent motel is named.

“It’s like a landmark, it’s still there,” he said. “It’s still there. Everything else destroyed but the bird is still there.”

Help is on the way

Desai’s plight was on the mind of Harikrishna “HK” Patel, AAHOA’s for the mid-South region.

“Nobody in his family is injured, so that’s one good thing, but their property is completely gone,” Patel said. “I mean, it’s a complete loss, [the tornado] basically tore up everything.”

Patel said AAHOA members are preparing to deliver aid to Desai and other storm victims.

“I’m trying to get a truckload of supplies like water, paper products, granola bars, food, anything that we can get them,” Patel said Monday. “I’m getting a truck full of stuff loaded today.”

The AAHOA regional team is also collecting and purchasing first-aid kits, blankets, and other personal care items. In a previous statement, AAHOA urged its members to donate to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund at TeamWKYReliefFund.ky.gov.

AAHOA members who need assistance can contact Patel at 937-524-6951 or [email protected]

“If we don’t know you’ve been impacted by the storm, we can’t help, and we have a whole army of AAHOA volunteers and other community leaders who are standing by,” HK said.

Also, AAHOA members are urged to lower flags on their properties to half staff in synchronicity with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s order for flags at government facilities be flown at half-staff “in honor of those lost and those suffering from this tornado.” They should be lowered beginning at sunrise Tuesday, Dec. 14, and remain so until sundown Monday, Dec. 20.

Members also are encouraged to provide shelter to those displaced by the storms and to first responders.

A historically bad storm

The storm event was the longest tornado track on record and the largest in Kentucky history, Beshear’s office said previously. A series of “Goldilocks conditions” led to the ferocity of the storms as a cold front from the north collided with unseasonably warm weather in the southern states, according to NBC news and other media sources.

Desai said he had never seen a storm like this in all his years in Kentucky.

“This is not, in this area I’ve never seen like this. This is the first time that it’s happened in December. There’s tornado season, maybe in the summertime or in the fall. But this is winter,” Desai said. “That’s why I’m saying nobody prepared. Even the city.”