As Kentuckians continued to assess the damage from the devastating tornadoes that ripped through the state over the weekend and leveled communities, officials and rescue workers were getting a clearer picture of how widespread the destruction was.
The death toll from the deadly tornadoes rose again Tuesday as Gov. Andy Beshear said 74 people in Kentucky were dead. Across five states, at least 88 had been killed in the storms that tore a path of destruction from Arkansas to Illinois.
Despite initial fears that dozens were dead in a Mayfield candle factory, company spokesperson Bob Ferguson said eight employees were killed and 102 survived. Beshear said earlier Monday the state was working to confirm the company’s numbers, and “I pray that it is accurate” because “we feared much, much worse.”
Meanwhile, around 450 National Guard members were mobilized in Kentucky, with 95 searching for the presumed dead. Beshear said he expects the death toll to rise in the coming days and that at least 109 people are unaccounted for.
‘We can expect more’:Did climate change play a role in the deadly weekend tornadoes?
President Joe Biden plans to tour the damage Wednesday after signing a disaster declaration for Kentucky.
Beshear said more than 1,000 properties were destroyed and more than 20,000 people remain without power in Kentucky, according to the online tracker Poweroutage.us. More than 10,000 homes and businesses had no water Monday, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told reporters.
At least 30 tornadoes from Friday to Saturday struck Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. One of the twisters that hit Kentucky is believed to have traveled 200 miles or more, possibly challenging the national record of 219 set in 1925.
AccuWeather said its preliminary estimate is that the tornadoes caused about $18 billion in damage and economic loss.
Here’s what we know:
At one 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 Monday. “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.
Before the twister touched down in Mayfield, Stewart said staffers recently 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
The devastating tornado outbreak may be the harbinger of future tragedies as the planet warms, some scientists say.
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.
While some of this is due to La Niña – a natural climate pattern that usually brings warmer-than-normal winter temperatures across the southern U.S. – scientists also expect atypical, warm weather in the winter to become more common due to climate change.
– Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
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.
– Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
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 extended for about 223 miles, four more than 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.
Contributing: Sarah Ladd, Mary Ramsey and Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal; John Bacon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press