Dozens are feared dead after tornadoes and severe storms ravaged homes, a factory, a nursing home and entire towns Friday night and Saturday morning in multiple states, including Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he expected more than 70 deaths amid a path of destruction throughout western Kentucky in what he called the deadliest tornado event in state history. He said the tornado touched down for 227 miles, most of them in his state.
“I’m now certain that number is north of 70, and it may exceed 100 before the day is over,” he said in a news conference early Saturday. He called the devastation “indescribable.”
Elsewhere, officials reported fatalities after severe weather tore through an Amazon facility in Illinois and a tornado ravaged a nursing home in Arkansas.
The tragedy was expected to become even more grave as rescue efforts continue.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Kentucky and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the storm response. The White House said Biden spoke on Saturday with Beshear and the governors of Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri.
“We’re going to get through this together,” Biden said Saturday. “The federal government is not going to walk away. This is one of those times when we aren’t Democrats or Republicans. We’re all Americans.”
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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite imagery shows many tornadoes were reported across six states. Beshear said four tornadoes touched down in Kentucky, with most of the destruction coming from the tornado that began in Arkansas and traveled more than 220 miles.
In Arkansas late Friday, a tornado struck the 86-bed Monette Manor nursing home, killing one person and trapping close to two dozen people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told The Associated Press.
Five people were seriously injured, he said.
At least one person died after severe weather ripped the roof off an Amazon facility about 25 miles east of St. Louis in Edwardsville, Illinois, police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters Saturday. A wall about the length of a football field collapsed, he said. Two injured people from the facility were flown to hospitals.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm,” Amazon said in a statement. “We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene.”
In Tennessee, three people died in the northwest part of the state, emergency management officials confirmed.
In a news conference Saturday morning, officials said about 40 people had been rescued from a leveled candle factory in Mayfield. The exact death toll is unknown, and it was expected to increase. Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered.
“It’ll be a miracle if anyone else is found alive,” Beshear said Saturday afternoon at a news conference.
“The structure is just a pile of bent metal and steel,” Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason said. “We had to, at times, crawl over causalities to get to live victims to get them out.”
About 110 people were in the facility at the time of the tornado, Beshear said. Cars were atop the flattened building, he said, along with heavy machinery and metal drums that contained “corrosive chemicals.”
“It’s pretty awful to witness,” he said.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history, and for those that have seen it, what it’s done here in Graves County and elsewhere, it is indescribable.”
The governor said he expected the death to reach 100 “before the day is over.”
Early damage reports come in overnight
Beshear said there would be fatalities in Graves, Marshall, Warren and Hopkins counties, adding he would “be surprised if we don’t lose people in at least five or more counties.”
He visited Mayfield and Dawson Springs, where he said his father grew up and where “they’re going to lose a whole lot of people.”
“One block from my grandparent’s house, there’s no house standing,” he said, choking up. “There’s no house standing and we don’t know where those people are.”
In Arkansas, Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook told KAIT-TV early Saturday that a woman died inside a Dollar General.
According to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, two deaths were reported in northeast Arkansas and at least 20,000 were without power statewide.
Workers at a National Weather Service office took shelter as a tornado passed by the center in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles west of St. Louis.
Live updates:Get the tornado news here
Death toll in Kentucky could be historic
Beshear said he expected “at least dozens” of fatalities from the candle factory’s roof collapse.
According to the National Weather Service, the deadliest tornado event in state history occurred in Jefferson County in 1890, when 76 people were killed.
Just over 70 in Kentucky were killed by an outbreak of tornadoes across several states in 1974.
The governor declared a state of emergency before midnight, activating the National Guard and deploying about 200 Guard members – including search and extraction and debris clearance personnel – who had been expected to arrive early Saturday.
“This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history. And some areas have been hit in ways that are hard to put into words,” Beshear said. “To all of our Kentucky families that are impacted by this, we want you to know that we are here for you, we love you, we are praying for you.”
Contributing: The Associated Press