The tornado that tore through Mayfield, Kentucky, overnight left a community mourning and in ruins — flattening a candle factory with over 100 people inside, destroying a fire station and cutting off power and water for miles.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear fought back tears during an emotional press conference late Saturday morning as he and local officials tried to describe the scope of the destruction they had witnessed in the community of about 10,000 people located in the southwest corner of Kentucky.
By Saturday afternoon, Beshear had assessed the scope of destruction statewide from, downtown Mayfield which was “completely devastated” to Bowling Green, 150 miles to the east-northeast.
Officials estimated at least four tornadoes hit the state. Beshear said he expected a death toll in the high double digits with victims from multiple counties.
Jeremy Creason, Mayfield’s fire chief and EMS director, said at the candle factory site crews “had to, at times, crawl over casualties to get to live victims to get them out, and mark those casualties as we work our way through the rubble. That’s just a picture of what they’re dealing with down there.”
The community’s main fire station was in the direct path of the tornado and was destroyed, along with the town’s fleet of police cars and a police station, local officials said. Surrounding communities were providing support, including 11 ambulances to assist with rescue-and-recovery efforts at the factory and throughout the county, Creason said.
Graves County Judge Executive Jesse Perry said there is no water in the county and power is out for miles around Mayfield, asking repeatedly for Kentuckians’ prayers.
Beshear said the state has deployed 150 coroners as part of the mass fatality team designed to provide resources such as PPE, body bags, batteries and refrigerated trailers. With dozens of deaths confirmed and miles of damage, Beshear called the storm “the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history.”
►’It’s devastating’:See the damage of the tornado that tore through Kentucky and other states
Drone footage shot Saturday morning offered a glimpse of the destruction in Mayfield’s downtown, with extensive damage to brick buildings and lots filled with debris and rubble.
Kyana Parsons-Perez, an employee at the candle factory, said she 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,” she said.
The storms arrived Friday overnight and Saturday and swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, tearing off roofs of homes and flinging debris into roadways.The governor declared a state of emergency and said the state had deployed 181 National Guard troops who arrived to affected areas Saturday morning.
►Kentucky tornadoes:Where did tornadoes hit? See damage county by county
Beshear said the twister touched down for more than 200 miles in Kentucky and could have left fatalities across 10 counties, or more.
Beshear noted that while 110 workers were believed to be at the candle factory when the tornado hit about midnight, there had only been 40 rescues of workers by first responders as of late Saturday morning.
“It’s heavy machinery… it’s the building that’s flattened. It’s cars from the parking lot that is on top of it. It’s huge metal drums, even ones with corrosive chemicals that were inside. It’s… pretty awful to witness,” Beshear said.
Beshear said he was among those worried for a loved one. For hours on Saturday, a cousin was unaccounted and feared dead. She was later located.
“I know we’ve lost lots of people,” he said. “We’re going to lose entire families. I think it’ll reach 100 children of God, irreplaceable in their communities, in their families”
“My dad’s hometown of Dawson Springs, population 2,700. they’re going to lose a whole lot of people. One block from my grandparent’s house, there’s no house standing,” Beshear said of the community, situated roughly between Bowling Green and Mayfield. “There’s no house standing and we don’t know where those people are.”
Contributing: The Courier Journal, The Associated Press.
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