DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. – One of the more than approximately 600 Kentucky National Guardsmen activated to help respond to devastating tornadoes lives just 8 miles from where the twisters touched down over western Kentucky.
Spc. Zach Neisz spent the first 27 hours after the storm aiding law enforcement and extracting people from their homes. Now, he’s working to control the flow of traffic coming into downtown.
Immediately after the storm hit, he and his brother-in-law got in a car and headed to the affected areas to assist first responders in extricating people from the rubble that was once their homes.
“I grabbed my trauma kit and my flashlight, and also I grabbed an axe from the trunk of my car and we just went,” said Neisz, with the 130th Engineer Support Battalion. “We helped the first responders pull people out of the debris off Keigan and Pine Street. It was something out of a Michael Bay film; it was crazy. You could just hear moans and groans through all the debris on both sides of the street. We just searched houses and searched for people.”
Zach has lived in the area for more than 20 years, and his close connection to the town motivated him to spring into action.
“The area I live in only received strong wind and lightning, but we could hear the bulk of the storm, but we didn’t realize how bad it was until the first responders started to arrive; that’s when we jumped in my car and headed down.
“I couldn’t sit back and not do anything,” he said. “It’s devastating to see my town this way. This is one of the smallest towns in the area, so we didn’t have a lot to lose, but what we did lose was major aspects of the town.”
He considers himself lucky because his wife and 10-month-old baby are safe and their house suffered only minor damage. Power has been restored at their residence.
He said the storm destroyed his cousin’s house. The apartments several of his friends lived in were gone.
“It’s just devastating, and it’s going to be a long road ahead to recover and to rebuild, but the community efforts have been a million times outstanding. The amount of volunteers and resources, private farmers, contractors bringing equipment to help has been outstanding.”
Neisz said serving in the National Guard is a way to pay back those who helped him and his family during the ice storms that hit Kentucky in 2009.
“This is why I joined,” he said. “I was a little kid during the ice storms in 2009, and a National Guardsman came out to my house and helped me and my family, and I’ve always wanted to pay that back too.”
He added one more thought for his community.
“For those that made it out safe and their children are fine, just hug your kid’ tight tonight.”