Kentucky: Scores feared dead after tornadoes devastate US state

Kentucky governor Andy Beshear says at a news conference that the death toll could exceed 100

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At least 70 people are feared dead in Kentucky after tornadoes and severe weather tore through several US states and caused catastrophic damage.

Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said at a news conference that the death toll could exceed 100.

“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” he said.

The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois and a nursing home in Arkansas.

Mr Beshear said about 110 people were in the Mayfield factory when the tornado hit.

Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess said search and rescue teams were going through the rubble but did not have a number for how many had died.

“We just can’t confirm a number right now because we are still out there working, and we have so many agencies involved in helping us,” she said.

She added that rescue crews were using heavy equipment to move rubble at the candle factory in western Kentucky.

Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she did not know how many. She said it could take a day and potentially longer to remove all the rubble.

President Joe Biden tweeted that he had been briefed on the situation and pledged the affected states would “have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue”.

Kyana Parsons-Perez, an employee at the factory, was trapped under 5ft of debris for at least two hours until rescuers freed her.

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.”

Just before the tornado struck, the building’s lights flickered. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started “popping” and then, “Boom. Everything came down on us.”

Among those who helped rescue the trapped workers were inmates from the nearby Graves County Jail, she said.

“They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything, but they did not. They were there, helping us,” she said.

Elsewhere in Graves County, the landscape was a scene of devastation with uprooted trees, downed utility poles, a store destroyed and homes severely damaged.

At least one person died at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, Police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters on 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 to hospital in St Louis, Mr Fillback said.

It was not 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 around the time of the collapse.

About 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to a police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation.

Early on Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble. Mr Fillback said the process could take several more hours. Cranes and diggers were brought in to help move debris.

“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. “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, Missouri, about 30 miles west of St Louis.

People work at the scene of a train derailment after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states in Earlington, Kentucky, U.S. December 11, 2021.  REUTERS/Cheney Orr
People work at the scene of a train derailment after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states in Earlington, Kentucky, U.S. December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

One person died and two others were injured in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both a few miles from the weather office.

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 suffered serious injuries, and a few others had minor ones, he said.

Three storm-related deaths were confirmed in Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Two occurred in Lake County, and the third was in Obion County — both in the north-western corner of the state.

The storms swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, tearing off roofs and flinging debris into roads. The GM Corvette Assembly Plant and the nearby Corvette Museum sustained light damage. A truck was overturned and pushed against a building across the street.

Western Kentucky University’s president, Timothy C Caboni, said on Twitter that one of its student who lived off-campus was killed.