Devastating tornado night likely kills more than 100 people in Kentucky

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MAYFIELD, Ky., Dec.11 (Reuters) – At least 100 people were feared dead in Kentucky after a swarm of tornadoes tore a 200-mile path through the Midwest and southern United States, demolishing homes, leveling businesses and starting a race to find survivors under the rubble, officials said on Saturday.

Powerful tornadoes, which meteorologists say are unusual in colder months, destroyed a candle factory and the fire and police stations in a small Kentucky town, destroyed a nursing home in neighboring Missouri and killed at least six workers in an Amazon warehouse. in Illinois.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has said the tornado collection is the most destructive in state history. He said around 40 workers were rescued from the Mayfield town candle factory, which had around 110 people inside when it was reduced to a rubble heap. It would be a “miracle” to find someone else living under the debris, Beshear said.

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“The devastation is unlike anything I’ve seen in my life and I find it hard to put it into words,” Beshear said at a press conference. “It will most likely be over 100 people lost here in Kentucky.”

Beshear said 189 National Guard personnel had been deployed to help with the recovery. Rescue efforts will largely focus on Mayfield, which is home to some 10,000 people in the southwestern corner of the state, where it converges with Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

Video and photos posted on social media showed brick buildings in downtown Mayfield flattened out, with parked cars almost buried under debris. The steeple of the historic Graves County Courthouse was knocked down and the nearby First United Methodist Church partially collapsed.

Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason, whose own station was destroyed, said the candle factory was reduced to a “heap of metal, steel and bent machinery” and responders sometimes had to ” crawl over the wounded to find living victims. “

Paige Tingle said she drove four hours to the site in hopes of reuniting with her 52-year-old mother, Jill Monroe, who worked at the factory and was last heard of at 9:30 p.m.

“We don’t know how to feel, we’re just trying to find her,” she said. “It’s a disaster here.”

The genesis of the tornado outbreak was a series of nighttime thunderstorms, including a supercell storm that formed in northeast Arkansas. This storm moved from Arkansas and Missouri to Tennessee and Kentucky.

Unusually high temperatures and humidity created the environment for such an extreme weather event at this time of year, said Victor Gensini, professor of geographic and atmospheric sciences at Northern Illinois University.

“It is a historic event, if not a generational event,” Gensini said.

Claiming the disaster was possibly one of the largest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history, President Joe Biden approved a declaration of emergency for Kentucky on Saturday.

He told reporters he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the role climate change may have played in fueling storms, and he raised questions about tornado warning systems.

“What warning was there? And was he strong enough and was he taken into account? Biden said.

“LIKE A BIG BOMB”

About 130 miles east of Mayfield in Bowling Green, Ky., Justin Shepherd said his cafe was spared the worst of the storm, which hit other businesses hard on the bustling commercial strip right next to the bypass to US Highway 31 West.

“We have damage to the siding and the roof here, but just across the road there is a brewery half of which is missing. It’s totally gone, like a big bomb that went off or something. kind.”

One person was killed and five seriously injured when a tornado ravaged a 90-bed nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, a small community near the Missouri border, according to Craighead County Judge Marvin Day.

“We were very lucky that more people were not killed or injured. It could have been a lot worse,” Day told Reuters.

A few miles away in Leachville, Arkansas, a tornado destroyed a Dollar general store, killing one person and devastating much of the town’s downtown area, said Lt. Chuck Brown of the Sheriff’s Office. from Mississippi County to Arkansas.

“It really looked like a roaring train through town.”

In Illinois, at least six workers have been confirmed killed after an Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) warehouse collapsed in the city of Edwardsville, when winds tore the roof and slashed a wall longer than a rubble football field.

Amazon truck driver Emily Epperson, 23, said she eagerly awaited information about the fate of coworker Austin McEwan late Saturday afternoon to pass it on to her girlfriend and parents.

“We’re so worried because we think he, you know, has already been found,” she told Reuters.

In Tennessee, severe weather has killed at least three people, said Dean Flener, spokesperson for the state’s Emergency Management Agency. And two people, including a young child, were killed in their homes in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said it has received 36 reports of tornadoes affecting Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.

The weather forecast was generally clear for Saturday night, but temperatures are expected to drop and thousands of residents are running out of power and water after the storm. As of Saturday afternoon, nearly 99,000 customers in Kentucky and more than 71,000 in Tennessee were without power, according to PowerOutage.US, a power outage tracking website.

Kentucky officials called on residents to stay off the roads and donate blood, as responders rushed to rescue survivors and account for people in communities who had lost communications.

“We have guards knocking on the door and watching people because there is no other communication with some of these people,” said Brigadier General Haldane Lamberton of the Kentucky National Guard.

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Reporting by Cheney Orr; Additional reporting by Njuwa Maina, Brendan O’Brien, Rich McKay, Vishal Vivek, Makini Brice, Valerie Volcovici, Maria Caspani and Steve Gorman; Written by Nathan Layne and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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