Tornadoes and severe weather caused catastrophic damage across multiple states late Friday, killing at least six people overnight as the storms tore through a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois and a nursing home in Arkansas. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he feared dozens more could be dead.
He called the situation at the factory in Mayfield, Ky., “tragic” at a news conference Saturday morning.
“There were about 110 people in it at the time that the tornado hit it,” Beshear said. “We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians and probably end up 70 to 100.”
The governor added, “It’s very hard, really tough, and we’re praying for each and every one of those families.”
This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky’s history, with multiple counties impacted and a significant loss of life. I have declared a state of emergency and submitted a request to <a href=”https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@POTUS</a> for an immediate federal emergency declaration. <a href=”https://t.co/KmMOl95t1N”>https://t.co/KmMOl95t1N</a> <br>1/2 <a href=”https://t.co/Xj5DgTZp1Z”>pic.twitter.com/Xj5DgTZp1Z</a>
In the early hours, more than 56,000 people in Kentucky were without power, Beshear said. He declared a state of emergency and was deploying dozens of national guardsman to communities.
Search underway at Amazon centre
Meanwhile, at least one person died after severe weather struck an 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 for treatment, Fillback said. The chief did not know which hospitals the two had been taken to, or their conditions. Edwardsville is about 40 kilometres 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 at 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 would last for several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the Amazon fulfilment centre in Edwardsville opened with two warehouses in 2016, with 1.5 million square feet of space. The warehouses are used to store items until they are shipped to mail-order customers.
“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.”
Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take shelter as a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Mo., about 50 kilometres west of St. Louis. One person died and two others were injured in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both just a few kilometres from the weather service office.
Nursing homes badly damaged
A tornado struck the Monette Manor nursing home in Arkansas on Friday night, killing one person and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told The Associated Press.
Five people had serious injuries, and a few others had minor ones, he said. The nursing home has 86 beds.
Day said another nursing home about 30 kilometres away in Truman was badly damaged but no injuries were reported. The residents were being evacuated because the building is unsafe.
Three storm-related deaths were confirmed in Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesperson for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Two of the deaths occurred in Lake County, and the third was in Obion County — both in the northwestern corner of the state.
In Kentucky, several buildings collapsed during the severe weather that struck Mayfield, said Sarah Burgess, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police.
She said several people were trapped inside the damaged candle factory and that a shift was ongoing when the storm hit.
“The entire building is essentially levelled,” she said.
Farther east in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky University said on Twitter that emergency crews were assessing significant storm damage and that no injuries were immediately reported. However, the school called off commencement ceremonies that were planned for Saturday because the campus was without power.
4:05am Update: WKU will not hold commencement ceremonies today (December 11). WKU remains without power. No injuries are reported on campus, but there is significant tornado damage in the area.
“It’s obvious we had major wind damage,” said Ronnie Ward, a Bowling Green police spokesperson, in a telephone interview.
Rescue efforts in Bowling Green and elsewhere were hampered by debris strewn across roads. Ward said numerous apartment complexes in Bowling Green had major structural damage, and some factories had collapsed during the storms.
“Right now we’re focusing on the citizens, trying to get to everybody that needs us,” Ward said.