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More than 4 months after historic tornado, Western Ky. residents find ways to give back

 Shane and Hailey Ragan hold their son Korbin for pictures at Lost River Cave in Bowling Green.
Lisa Autry
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Shane and Hailey Ragan hold their son Korbin for pictures at Lost River Cave in Bowling Green.

Lost River Cave on a Saturday morning is the backdrop of new memories in the making. Bowling Green photographer Cindy Watson poses Shane and Hailey Ragan on the pedestrian bridge along with their baby Korbin.

Mom is in a floral dress and Dad and son match in a white t-shirt and jeans. They’re holding one-year-old Korbin who has piercing blue eyes.

Watson jiggles a set of keys above her head to get Korbin’s attention.

”Korbin, hey! Hey, where did those smiles go? Good job," she exclaims while snapping the camera.

The Ragan’s lost their home on Stone Hollow Lane in the Creekwood neighborhood, an area nearly decimated by the December 11 tornado.

"Definitely devastating, terrible," stated Hailey Ragan.

The storm took everything the young couple had built so far.

“Literally everything. We were able to scrounge a few packs of diapers, but that was about it," explained Shane Ragan.

The family’s ultrasound pics of baby Korbin were found on the other end of town. A kind stranger found the couple on Facebook and returned the photos.

The rest of their life in pictures is gone. But Watson is helping the family make new memories. The local photographer lives only half a mile from where the tornado hit off Russellville Road.

"For the longest time, there was the National Guard posted outside my house to keep people from going back there. It was a constant thing after the tornadoes that I was seeing it and it made me realize how close it was to me and so I wanted to do something to help people," Watson said. "I had this idea back in December but I knew it wasn’t a good time for people to get pictures so I decided to wait a little while, so it’s something to help people get memories back they may have lost.”

Watson offered free photo sessions last weekend to families who lost their pictures in the storm.

Another couple getting a fresh start is Matt Higdon and Amanda Stogsdill.

Matt is in a black shirt and jeans. Amanda is wearing a flowing peach dress. The couple has been together three years and shared a home on Creekwood Avenue. They, too, lost valuable photos.

“A lot of my kids and my mom who passed away two years ago," explained Stogsdill.

Both Matt and Amanda are recovering addicts. Life for them hasn’t been easy. They lost everything in the tornado, and their son to an overdose a month later.

“Me and his dad got clean. We’ve been clean for three years, and then I got a phone call on January 2nd, the same day my mother died two years ago, telling me my son had been found in car overdosed," recalled Stogsdill.

Much like what these pictures symbolize, the couple is celebrating new beginnings. Earlier in the day, Matt proposed to Amanda, and the couple is waiting to find out if they’re pregnant.

“That’s what hoping, we’re both hoping for it," exclaimed Stogsdill! "We’re excited.”

Matt and Amanda leave the photo shoot grateful for the chance to capture a new chapter in pictures.

While photographer Cindy Watson is offering memories, Tyrone Dunn is bringing the music. He’s been a staple of the Bowling Green music scene for nearly two decades.

“In those 19 years I’ve never experienced a tornado. It’s a very sad situation. I had a lot of friends and family lost homes," stated Dunn. "Just riding through the neighborhoods and up and down roads seeing the damage, it’s just heartbreaking.”

Tyrone and his cover band Kinfoke will headline a benefit concert Saturday night in downtown Bowling Green. It’s his way of giving back to a community that’s allowed him to do what he loves.

Band Together BG-After the Storm will take place at La Gala on Circus Square. All the proceeds from the concert will go toward local tornado relief efforts.

“We do a little bit of everything. We go from Marvin Gay to Chris Stapleton, from the Temptations to Creedence Clearwater Revival. We do Motown, blues, classic rock, R&B soul," explained Dunn. "We’re hoping to bring some high energy and hoping some people come out to have a good time, raise some money, and get this city back on track.”

Nearly five months into tornado recovery, a community that lost so much still has so much to give.
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