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Storm destroys Healing Field, damages legion's grandstand

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By Ben Carlson

Straight-line winds nearing 50 mph destroyed Lawrenceburg's Healing Field, removed a large section of the grandstand at Legion Park and fell trees across the city Monday night.

The Healing Field, the only permanent healing field in the nation which serves as memorial to soldiers killed in the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sustained major damage. Strong winds ripped a number of flags from their poles, strewing them across the ground. Other poles were bent to the ground, and the rest sustained damage.

The grandstand, needed for the upcoming Lawrenceburg Fair and Horse show later this month, had what appeared to be a 100-foot section of its roof ripped off when the wind sent it flying into a nearby storage building.

Numerous trees were uprooted across the city, including what is believed to be the county's oldest and biggest oak tree in front of a home on Highway 62.

By Tuesday morning, residents, city and county work crews, and tree removal businesses were busy clearing debris from what was one of the strongest storms to hit Anderson County in recent years.

"It's one of the worst I've seen," said Charlie O'Neal, deputy director of the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services and former head of EMS in Anderson County.

'It will be fixed'

Many Anderson Countians have a strong emotional attachment to the Healing Field. Its markers and flags are tributes to soldiers across the state who have died, including several Anderson County soldiers killed in action over the past several years.

Terry Rice is the state's public relations director for the American Legion and lives in Lawrenceburg. Rice said one way or another, the Healing Field will be repaired.

"It will be fixed," he declared Tuesday morning, just hours after he and other Legion members scrambled to retrieve fallen flags and assess damages to the park.

"You might see me on the street holding an orange bucket to collect donations, but it will be fixed. You can count on that."

Monday's storm wasn't the first to cause damage to the flagpoles, which were erected last year. Previous storms bent several of the poles, prompting ongoing fundraising efforts from the Auxiliary to get them replaced.

"We had a special bingo here the Saturday before last," said Rice, whose wife, Pam, is president of the state's Auxiliary and was out of the area on a Girls State trip to Cumberland College. "The Auxiliary raised about $2,000 from that effort and maintains a collection bucket during each bingo session.

"We're going to need a lot more donations now," he said.

Will the show go on?

Rice said Tuesday morning that the fate of the Lawrenceburg Fair and Horse Show had yet to be decided. He said a meeting of the Legion's executive committee was scheduled for Tuesday night.

The grandstand, used for several events during the weeklong fair scheduled to begin June 21, is primarily used during the horse show events.

Although a majority of the structure remains upright, Rice said it needs to be inspected for damage before it can be used.

"It's really too early to tell," he said. "We just want to make sure no one gets hurt."

The fair is the largest fundraiser sponsored by the Legion and its Auxiliary each year, Rice said. Without it, the Legion would struggle to maintain the host of services it provides to veterans and their families throughout the year.

The grandstand damage comes about two years after a storm toppled a large tree near the clubhouse, punching a sizeable hole in its roof.

Rice said that setback and Monday's storm continue to make life difficult for the Legion, but that it won't be deterred from fulfilling its mission.

"We keep getting hit, but we veterans will survive," he said.

Packing a punch

The storm hit Lawrenceburg around 10 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

"The worst part hit right around 10:50 and lasted 20 to 25 minutes," O'Neal said.

"I've seen straight-line winds cause damage, but never like that."

He said the storm blew in quickly, catching many people off guard.

"I'm surprised the National Weather Service didn't issue a warning," he said.

O'Neal said 1.27 inches of rain fell, and the highest winds he knew about were clocked at 44 mph around 11 p.m. Other media outlets reported winds even higher.

He said the 44 mph gust was recorded at his home in Lawrenceburg, and that the highest gust registered at the ambulance service building on U.S. 127 Bypass was 35 mph.

"Most of the damage was to trees and power lines," O'Neal said. "We did have a tree on a car, so there was at least one automobile damaged."

With the exception of the damage at the grandstand and Healing Field, "there is not significant damage, just trees scattered over different parts of town," said Larry Hazlett, director of public works for the city of Lawrenceburg.

Hazlett estimated the total clean up time to be a couple of days.

About 4,500 Kentucky Utilities customers statewide were without power as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a recording on the KU customer service line. About 3,500 of those customers were in the Lexington, Lawrenceburg, Versailles and Midway areas. The recording assured customers that outages would be repaired "as quickly and as safely as possible."

Magen Howard, communications adviser for Blue Grass Energy, said at the height of her company's outages, about 500 households were without power. Most of the power was restored by noon Tuesday, and as of about 1:50 Tuesday afternoon, fewer than 30 outages remained, Howard said.

"We have four districts, and Anderson County was probably the hardest hit," she said.