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Emotional Kentucky governor: At least 70 people feared dead in storms

Dec 11, 2021, 10:09 AM
A feed store damaged by a tornado is seen in Mayfield, Ky.,on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Tornadoes an...
A feed store damaged by a tornado is seen in Mayfield, Ky.,on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Tornadoes and severe weather caused catastrophic damage across multiple states late Friday, killing several people overnight. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says he fears tornadoes have killed 70 people in the state and the death toll may exceed 100.  Severe storms moved through the area Friday night and caused catastrophic damage across multiple states.

“This has been 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 factory when the tornado hit.

Governor, deputies hopeful more lives can be saved

Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess said search and rescue teams were still going through the rubble Saturday but didn’t yet have a number for how many have died.  Coroners have been called to the scene of a candle factory in western Kentucky and bodies have been recovered, but she didn’t know how many.

“We just can’t confirm a number right now because we are still out there working, and we have so many agencies involved in helping us,” Burgess said.

She said rescue crews were using heavy equipment to move rubble at the candle factory in western Kentucky.  Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she didn’t know how many.  She said it could take a day and potentially longer to remove all of the rubble.

“Absolutely the most terrifying”

Kyana Parsons-Perez, an employee at the factory, was trapped under 5 feet of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.

In an interview with “TODAY,” she said it was the “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all,” recalls Parsons-Perez.

Just before the tornado struck, the building’s lights flickered.  She felt a gust of wind, her ears started “popping” and then, “Boom. Everything came down on us.” 

People started screaming, and she heard Hispanic workers praying in Spanish.  Among those who helped rescue the trapped workers were inmates from the nearby Graves County Jail.

“They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything, but they did not.  They were there, helping us,” she said.

Lives, homes destroyed over several states

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

Two people at the facility were taken by helicopter to hospitals in St. Louis, Fillback said.  The chief said he did not know their medical conditions.  Edwardsville is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of St. Louis.

It wasn’t 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 around the time of the collapse.

About 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation.
Early Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble.  Fillback said the process could take several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.

“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement Friday night. “We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.”

Affected states would have what they need

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

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Emotional Kentucky governor: At least 70 people feared dead in storms