12 kids among 74 death count; power outage continues

December 14, 2021
Thousands without water, power; death toll at 74
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Kentuckians as young as 2 months and as old as 98 were among the dead in the devastating tornadoes that ripped through the state over the weekend and leveled communities.

Gov. Andy Beshear said the “good news” was that the death toll did not increase Tuesday, standing at 74 people killed in the storms, including 12 children. But he does expect the numbers to rise in the coming days since more than 100 people are missing.

Across five states, at least 88 were killed as a series of tornadoes tore a path of destruction from Arkansas to Illinois.

Officials and rescue workers worked through the rubble Tuesday to get a clearer picture of how widespread the damage was. Beshear said the extreme weather will “probably be one of the most devastating tornado events in U.S. history.”

At a candle factory in Mayfield where a tornado tore apart the building, Beshear said rescue workers’ cadaver dogs surveyed the rubble and did not find any additional bodies. Eight people were killed at the factory, and Beshear said it was a “miracle” no more deaths have been reported. He said the state was working with the company to verify that no more deaths occurred.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate as it does any death in a workplace, Beshear said. “It shouldn’t suggest that there was any wrongdoing, but what it should give people confidence in is that we’ll get to the bottom of what happened,” he said

More than 550 National Guard members were mobilized in Kentucky, almost 80 of them searching for the presumed dead, Beshear said. State parks opened to house displaced residents.

‘We can expect more’:Did climate change play a role in the deadly weekend tornadoes?

More than 1,000 properties were destroyed, Beshear said Monday, and more than 24,000 homes and businesses remain without power in Kentucky, according to the online tracker Poweroutage.us.

The electric grid in the town of Mayfield was wiped out, and it will take weeks to months to rebuild, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said Tuesday. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency were on the ground, and efforts began to determine which houses can be repaired, Dossett said. 

At least 30 tornadoes from Friday to Saturday struck Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. One of the twisters that hit Kentucky may have traveled 200 miles or more, possibly challenging the national record of 219 set in 1925. 

President Joe Biden, who signed a disaster declaration for Kentucky, plans to tour the damage Wednesday. A similar declaration was approved Tuesday for parts of Illinois, freeing federal resources for recovery efforts from storm-related damage.

Here’s what we know:

Tornado could be costliest in US history

AccuWeather said the total damages and economic losses from the tornado outbreak could amount to $18 billion, which would make it the costliest such event in U.S. history.

Beshear said state officials are assessing the tornadoes’ economic impact, which he figured would be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars, at least.” 

Among the most damaging tornado events in U.S. history, the 1925 “Tri-State Tornado” killed hundreds of people. In 1974 and 2011, super outbreaks spawned hundreds of twisters that killed several hundred people and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.

– Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Was the tornado that hit Mayfield an EF5? Here’s how the National Weather Service decides

Kentucky Gov. Beshear lost 2 relatives in tornadoes

Beshear said Tuesday that two cousins of his uncle died in the storm. The uncle was married to his dad’s sister, who died earlier this year, Beshear said. “It doesn’t seem right how life can hit some people in certain years,” he said.

Beshear said his uncle would tour the damage with him in Muhlenberg County on Tuesday.

Who are the victims of the tornadoes?

As search-and-rescue efforts continue, officials began to share the names of those killed in the storms.

In Graves County, Jha’lil Lee Dunbar, 3, was among the youngest victims. A relative confirmed the child’s death to the Louisville Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Robert Daniel, a police deputy, died while supervising inmates on work release at the Mayfield candle factory, according to a social media post from Graves County Jailer George Workman. Devyn Cunningham, 21, and Jill Monroe, 52, died while working at the candle factory as well, according to social media posts.

Jenny Bruce, 65, a former administrator and member of the Dawson Springs Independent School board, was among the dead in Hopkins County, according to the coroner.

Brian Crick, 43, a district court judge for Muhlenberg and McLean counties, died in the storms, state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton confirmed over the weekend. Read more here.

– Olivia Krauth, Louisville Courier Journal

How to help Kentucky tornado victims:Donate to relief funds, Red Cross and food distribution

74 elderly residents survive Mayfield nursing home annihilation

At a nursing home in western Kentucky, all 74 residents survived despite the tornado tearing through much of the town, said Sarah Stewart, ClearView Healthcare Management Regional Director of Operations.

“When you see the devastation of the building, to have kept that many people alive was truly a miracle,” Stewart said. “These are vulnerable, elderly people who cannot run. The staff risked their lives to protect them. It’s the best outcome.”

Mayfield’s four-wing, one-story nursing facility suffered catastrophic damage and was declared a total loss by insurance agents Monday.

Stewart said staffers had moved eight residents out of one of the four wings, so construction could take place. The night of the tornado, that wing was leveled.

“It’s hard to say there wasn’t some divine intervention there,” Stewart said.

– Natalie Neysa Alund, Louisville Courier Journal

Did climate change play a role in the deadly weekend tornadoes?

The devastating tornado outbreak may be the harbinger of future tragedies as the planet warms, some scientists said.

Spring-like temperatures across much of the Midwest and South last week helped bring the warm, moist air that formed the thunderstorms that spawned the tornadoes. The warmth was at record-breaking levels, meteorologists said, including in Memphis, Tennessee, which soared to a record high of 80 degrees on Friday, the National Weather Service said.  

“The latest science indicates that we can expect more of these huge (tornado) outbreaks because of human-caused climate change,” Penn State meteorologist Michael Mann told USA TODAY.

Though La Niña, which brings warmer-than-normal winter temperatures across the Southern USA, is a natural climate pattern, scientists expect atypical warm weather in the winter to become more common because of climate change.

– Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Map: Path of destruction from historic tornadoes

A combination of the main tornado’s enormous path as it tore from Arkansas to Kentucky, its sheer power and the high number of smaller whirlwinds that accompanied it made for an overwhelming force that left devastated communities in its wake.

The tornado’s path appears to have extended for 200 miles or more, possibly challenging the record of 219 set by the so-called Tri-State Tornado on March 18, 1925, which ripped through parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

Official confirmation of the trajectory of last weekend’s main tornado won’t be available for several days.

Facebook group helps tornado victims find belongings

As the tornadoes tore through western Kentucky, residents’ belongings were carried as far as Louisville, southern Indiana and Ohio. A Facebook group named Quad State Tornado Found Items has attracted more than 55,000 members to search for missing possessions and share what’s been found.

Jessica Thacker Noffsinger said she was lucky her family’s home in rural Bremen, Kentucky, remained standing. A small outbuilding where the family stored photos and documents was carried off in the storm.

Three pictures have since been found by strangers in Crestwood, Kentucky; Mauckport, Indiana; and Laconia, Indiana – all more than 100 miles away.

– Bailey Loosemore, Louisville Courier Journal

OSHA investigates Amazon site in Illinois where six workers died 

The Amazon warehouse in Illinois where six workers were killed after a tornado strike Friday is under investigation by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Agency spokesperson Scott Allen said OSHA inspectors have been at the Edwardsville site since Saturday and will determine whether workplace safety rules were followed. Two sides of the warehouse collapsed and its roof caved in after the tornado hit Friday night.

National civil rights lawyer Ben Crump said in a statement Tuesday that he’s representing the family of one of the victims at the warehouse, DeAndre Morrow, 28. “The family members we represent are deeply distraught and want answers to their questions,” Crump said.

– Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

Contributing: Sarah Ladd, Mary Ramsey and Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal; John Bacon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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