Governor of Kentucky: Storms may have killed at least 70 people

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) – The governor of Kentucky said on Saturday that a monstrous tornado had likely killed dozens of people in the state and that the toll was rising after severe weather ravaged at least five states, leaving devastation generalized.

Gov. Andy Beshear said more than 70 people could have died when a tornado made landfall for more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) in his state, but the death toll could exceed 100 in 10 or more counties.

“It was the most devastating tornado ever event in the history of our state, ”Beshear said at a press conference.

The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas. Authorities had confirmed 18 deaths, including 10 in Muhlenberg County in Kentucky and an unknown number in the town of Bowling Green. Beshear said about 110 people were in the Mayfield factory when the tornado roared.

Debris of destroyed buildings and ragged trees blanketed the ground in Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 people in western Kentucky. Twisted iron sheets, fallen power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets of what was barely recognizable as a city.

Among those missing at the candle factory was Denise Johnson Williams, a 50-year-old mother of four whose family members watched over the site on Saturday.

“It’s Christmas and she works at a place that makes candles for gifts,” said her brother, Darryl Williams. “To give up the gift of life in order to make a donation. We haven’t heard anything, and I’m not presuming anything. But I expect the worst.

He said Johnson Williams called her husband overnight to let him know the weather was getting bad the last time anyone heard from her.

Factory worker Kyanna Parsons-Perez was trapped under 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today”, she said it was “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I didn’t think I was going to make it at all.”

Just before the tornado hit, the building lights flashed. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started to “crack”, then “Boom.” Everything fell on us. People started screaming and she heard Hispanic laborers praying in Spanish.

Among those who helped rescue the trapped workers were inmates from nearby Graves County Jail, she said.

“They could have used this moment to try to get away or whatever, but they didn’t. They were there to help us, ”she said.

Kentucky State Troop Sarah Burgess said rescue teams were using heavy equipment to move rubble from the candle factory. Coroners were called to the scene and the bodies were recovered, but she was unsure how many. She said it could take a day and potentially longer to clear all the rubble.

Rescue efforts were complicated as Mayfield’s main fire station and emergency services center were also affected by the tornado, said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and director of EMS.

“We worked tirelessly all night,” he said. “Sometimes we had to crawl over the victims to find living victims and get them out. “

President Joe Biden tweeted on Saturday that he had been briefed on the situation and pledged that affected states would “have what they need as the search for survivors and the damage assessment continue.”

At least one person has died at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Ill., Police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters on Saturday morning. The roof of the building was torn off and a wall the length of a football field collapsed.

Two people from the facility were taken to hospitals in St. Louis, about 25 miles away, Fillback said. The chief said he did not know their state of health. About 30 people who were in the building were taken to the police station for assessment.

Early Saturday, rescue teams were still sorting through the rubble. Fillback said the process could take several hours longer. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move the debris.

“This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our goal is to support our employees and partners,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.

Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take refuge when a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of St. Louis. One person died and two others were injured in the collapse of buildings near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both only miles from the weather services office.

“It was an incredible storm that lasted a long time and covered a lot of territory,” said Larry Vannozzi, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s office covering the Nashville area.

Meteorologists have not determined whether the storm produced a single tornado or multiple tornadoes, he said.

In Arkansas, a tornado struck a retirement home in Monette, killing one and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told the Associated Press. Five people were seriously injured, he said.

Another person died when the storm hit a Dollar General store near Leachville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

“The most remarkable thing is probably that there isn’t a greater loss of life,” Hutchinson said after visiting the wreckage of the nursing home. ” It’s catastrophic. It is total destruction.

Three storm-related deaths have been confirmed in northwest Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesperson for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Storms swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, ripping roofs off houses and throwing debris on the roads. The president of Western Kentucky University said on Twitter that one of his students who lived off campus was killed. The school canceled the opening ceremonies that were scheduled for Saturday because the campus was without power.


John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report. Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.

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