Kentucky Tornado Victim Describes Emotional Search for Her Four Pets amid Debris: 'They're My Babies'

Stephanie Matheny of Mayfield, Kentucky, spoke exclusively with PEOPLE after her home was destroyed amid the string of deadly tornadoes that devastated the Bluegrass State late Friday evening

After "the deadliest tornado event" in the history of Kentucky left at least 80 people dead, one survivor is speaking out about the disaster that left her home completely destroyed.

Stephanie Matheny of Mayfield, Kentucky spoke exclusively with PEOPLE on Sunday after a string of deadly tornadoes devastated the Bluegrass State late Friday evening into early Saturday morning.

Matheny, 34, said she and her husband, along with their friends, were about 30 miles away from home in nearby Paducah at her company Christmas party, when they decided to head back to Mayfield to be with her pets — one dog and three cats — before the tornado hit.

For more on the devastating tornadoes in Kentucky and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

But five minutes into their drive home, a friend warned them to stay put, saying, "Do not come to Mayfield. If you come, you will drive right into it."

"And so, we pulled into the local Walmart here in Paducah and we waited," she recalled.

Matheny said as they made their way back into the "pitch-black" town, she "saw nothing but trees. Trees were just bent. It looked like someone just took a hedge trimmer and just chipped the top of them off."

Stephanie Matheny Kentucky Tornado
Courtesy Stephanie Matheny

"My house was lifted off its foundation and moved 50 feet. And all my walls were caved in. A part of the front of my house is on my car and my husband's car," she described.

"And I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I lost everything,'" Matheny continued. "And my four fur babies were at home. I've lost everything. And they're my babies. I can't have children," she added.

Stephanie Matheny Kentucky Tornado
Courtesy Stephanie Matheny

Thanks to the kindness of her cousin and a man named Paul from nearby Hopkinsville, Matheny was able to rescue three of her four pets — a Huskador named Lady and two tabbies named Meeko and Athena — after sifting through layers of debris. Her gray-and-white cat Dinah has yet to be recovered.

"And God is so good, honey. God is so good. My dog was in front of a wooden ceramic infrared heater … She had half a wall of my kitchen sink, my stove and my outside wall laying on her," Matheny explained. "And [Paul] was just throwing that wall, throwing that sink, throwing my stove around. And if that heater was not there, she would be crushed. It did it so good for her that it was laying at an angle that it all fell on the heater. And she came out untouched."

Matheny, who is staying at a hotel in the meantime, says that although she feels blessed, she's "starting over again" at 34.

"We've all hit rock bottom before; I'm not ungrateful by no means, honey, because so many people have just been helping us and just checking on us and everything," she said. "And I know so many people have lost a lot more than I have. Mayfield's gone."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

On Saturday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency and activated 181 guardsmen from the National Guard in response to the tornadoes.

"Multiple tornadoes have touched down and we have damage in, I believe, over a dozen Kentucky counties," Beshear, 44, said in a press conference, before detailing that four tornadoes — including one that remained on the ground for more than 200 miles after hitting land — had traveled through the state.

"We have deaths in multiple, possibly many, counties," he continued. "We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians and probably end up closer to 70 to 100 lost lives."

"We will make it through this," he added. "We will rebuild — We are strong, resilient people."

Related Articles