Rescuers combed wreckage fields after a tornado outbreak roared across the United States, leaving dozens dead and communities desperate.
A tornado has made a trail that could rival the longest on record as the storm front destroyed a candle factory, crushed a nursing home and flattened an Amazon distribution center.
“I pray that there is another rescue. I pray there will be one or two more, ”Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said as crews searched the wreckage of the candle factory in Mayfield, where 110 people worked Friday night. when the storm hit. Forty of them were rescued.
“Sometimes we had to crawl over the injured to find living victims,” said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and director of EMS.
In Kentucky alone, 22 were confirmed dead on Saturday night, including 11 in Bowling Green and surrounding areas. But Beshear said more than 70 people may have been killed when a tornado touched down for more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) in his state and the death toll could possibly exceed 100 in 10 or more counties. .
The death toll of 36 in five states includes six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was affected; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a retirement home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.
If the first reports are confirmed, the tornado “will likely become one of the longest violent tornadoes in US history,” said Victor Genzini, extreme weather researcher at Northern Illinois University.
The longest tornado on record, in March 1925, traveled approximately 355 kilometers through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But Genzini said that tornado could have touched down for nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers). The storm was all the more remarkable since it came in December, when the normally colder weather limits tornadoes, he said.
Debris from destroyed buildings and ragged trees blanketed the ground in Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 people in western Kentucky. Twisted metal sheets, fallen power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings still standing.
Among those missing at the candle factory was Janine Denise Johnson Williams, a 50-year-old mother of four whose family members watched over the site on Saturday.
“It’s Christmas and she works at a place that makes candles for gifts,” said her brother, Darryl Williams. “Giving up the gift of life for a gift. We haven’t heard a thing, and I don’t presume but I expect the worst.
He said Johnson Williams called her husband overnight to let him know the weather was getting bad the last time anyone heard from her.
Factory worker Kyanna Parsons-Perez was trapped under 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.
In an interview with NBC’s “Today”, she said it was “absolutely the most terrifying event” she has ever experienced. “I didn’t think I was going to make it at all.”
Just before the tornado hit, the building lights flashed. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started to crack and then, “Boom.” Everything fell on us. People started screaming and she heard other workers praying.
Kentucky State Trooper Sarah Burgess said rescue teams were using heavy equipment to move rubble from the candle factory. Coroners were called to the scene and the bodies were recovered, but she was unsure how many.
Rescue efforts were complicated as the main fire station and emergency services center in Mayfield were also affected by the tornado, Creason said.
After a wall collapsed at a nursing home in Mayfield, Vernon Evans said he rushed to help firefighters get people out, only to find a resident lying dead within inches of water.
“All I could do was sit there and hold their heads up high,” he said. “I have never experienced anything like this.”
President Joe Biden approved a declaration of emergency disaster for Kentucky on Saturday and pledged to support affected states.
“I promise you that no matter what, no matter what, the federal government will find a way to provide it,” Biden said.
Six people were killed in the Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, Ill., And another injured worker was airlifted to a hospital, Fire Chief James Whiteford said.
Investigators searched the rubble throughout the day for additional casualties and 45 people survived, Whiteford said. Authorities were unsure on Saturday night if anyone was still missing because workers were changing shifts when she was hit by the tornado around 8:30 p.m. Friday.
“This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our goal is to support our employees and partners,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
The Retailers, Wholesalers and Department Stores Union, which tried to organize workers at an Amazon plant in Alabama, criticized the company for keeping the Illinois site open during a weather emergency.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office said the storms have killed at least two people in the state and initial estimates indicate they have destroyed or caused significant damage to hundreds of homes and buildings.
Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take refuge when a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of St. Louis.
“It was an incredible storm that lasted a long time and covered a lot of territory,” said Larry Vannozzi, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s office covering the Nashville area.
Meteorologists have not determined whether the storm produced a single tornado or more, he said.
In Arkansas, a tornado struck a retirement home in Monette, killing one and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told the Associated Press.
Another person died when the storm hit a Dollar General store near Leachville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
“The most remarkable thing is probably that there isn’t a greater loss of life,” Hutchinson said after visiting the wreckage of the nursing home. ” It’s catastrophic. It is total destruction.
Four storm-related deaths have been confirmed in northwest Tennessee, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said.
“It’s just about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said after visiting the community of Dresden, which saw its downtown hallway torn apart. “The whole town, the whole town. “