Governor of Kentucky: Tornado on the ground for more than 200 miles
The governor of Kentucky said a devastating tornado had struck 227 miles – more than 200 in his state – and deaths were feared in 10 counties.
Gov. Andy Beshear told a news conference on Saturday that at least 70 people fear death in Kentucky and the death toll could exceed 100.
“It will be, I believe, the deadliest tornado system to ever pass through Kentucky,” Beshear said.
Beshear said about 110 people were in a Mayfield candle factory hit by a tornado.
Local officials said members of the National Guard and rescue workers from across the state were flocking to Mayfield to help with the search and rescue operation.
THIS IS A CURRENT UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) – At least 70 people have reportedly been killed in Kentucky after tornadoes and inclement weather ravaged several states and caused catastrophic damage.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear told a press conference on Saturday that the death toll could exceed 100.
“This was the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Beshear said.
The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas. Beshear said about 110 people were in the Mayfield plant when the tornado struck.
Kentucky State Police Soldier Sarah Burgess said search and rescue teams were scouring the rubble on Saturday but did not yet have the death toll.
“We just can’t confirm a number at this time as we’re still working there and we have so many agencies involved to help us,” Burgess said.
She said rescue teams were using heavy equipment to move rubble from the candle factory in western Kentucky. 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.
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.”
Kyana Parsons-Perez, a factory worker, 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 “TODAY”, she said it was the “absolutely 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. Elsewhere in Graves County, the landscape was a scene of devastation with uprooted trees, downed utility poles, a destroyed store, and badly damaged homes.
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 helicoptered to hospitals in St. Louis, Fillback said. The chief said he did not know their state of health. Edwardsville is approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of St. Louis.
It was not immediately clear whether the damage was caused by straight line storms or a tornado, but the National Weather Service office near St. Louis reported “radar confirmed tornadoes” in the Edwardsville area. at the time of the collapse.
About 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to nearby Pontoon Beach 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.
“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority at this time,” Amazon spokesman Richard Rocha said in a written statement Friday evening. “We are assessing the situation and will share additional information when it becomes available.”
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.
A tornado hit Monette Manor Nursing Home in Arkansas on Friday night, 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 and a few others were slightly injured, he said. The retirement home has 86 beds.
Three storm-related deaths have been confirmed in Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesperson for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Two of the deaths were in Lake County and the third in Obion County, both in the northwest corner of the state.
Storms swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, ripping roofs off houses and throwing debris on the roads. The GM Corvette assembly plant and the nearby Corvette Museum sustained minor damage. A semi-trailer was overturned and pushed against a building just across the street.
The president of Western Kentucky University said on Twitter that one of his students who lived off campus was killed. Timothy C. Caboni, the president of the school, offered his condolences and asked all the students to find out from those close to them. He said the main structures of the school had been mostly spared from major damage and workers were trying to restore power, campus networks and phone lines.
The school canceled the opening ceremonies that were scheduled for Saturday because the campus was without power.
Ronnie Ward, a spokesperson for Bowling Green Police, said in a telephone interview that rescue efforts in Bowling Green and elsewhere were hampered by debris strewn on the roads. Ward said many apartment complexes in Bowling Green suffered major structural damage and some factories collapsed during the storms.
“Right now we are focusing on the citizens, trying to reach out to everyone who needs us,” Ward said.