At least 70 people are "certain" to be dead and the toll could rise to over 100 after tornadoes and storms ripped through parts of the Midwest and South Friday night, Kentucky's governor said Saturday.
Thirty-six tornadoes were reported across six states, including Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. More than 70 people in Kentucky alone are "certain" to be dead, and the toll could rise to above 100, according to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who declared a state of emergency Saturday morning.
"We were pretty sure that we would lose over 50 Kentuckians. I'm now certain that that number is north of 70," Beshear said in a news conference. "It may, in fact, end up exceeding 100 before the day is done."
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A tornado struck Mayfield, Kentucky, destroying a candle factory that was in operation. At least 110 people were in the building when it hit, according to local news source WLKY. Rescue efforts are underway, per Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett.
So far, 40 people have been rescued from the factory, with the last successful rescue there occurring at approximately 3:30 a.m., Beshear said. Hundreds of successful rescues have occurred across the state.
Kentucky governor: 110 people were in the Mayfield candle factory when it was hit by tornado. Fears "we'll lose dozens."— Steve Lookner (@lookner) December 11, 2021
(from press conference)
Over 180 National Guard members have been deployed so far in the state, with more expected during the day as help is requested, Beshear added. Other emergency services from neighboring counties have also come in to help.
A county jail in Mayfield was also hit by the storm. Prisoners from the jail had come to help sort through the damage and rescue trapped workers, according to Kyana Parsons-Perez, a factory survivor. Parsons-Perez had been trapped for a couple of hours before she was rescued.
“They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything, but they did not. They were there, helping us,” Parsons-Perez told TODAY.
Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason said the main fire department was in the direct path of the tornado and has been out of commission. The officials' priorities are the candle factory and finding a temporary station for the 45 firefighters in the town, he said.
Police Chief Nathan Kent said there would be a mandatory curfew for nonessential workers in the town at 7 p.m. so necessary officials can work effectively through the night.
An Amazon warehouse in Illinois also received "catastrophic damage" with an estimated 50-100 employees inside the building, according to Fox News. The Edwardsville Police Department said in a statement that it is an "active search and recovery scene" with multiple agencies assisting. Two people have been confirmed dead so far, according to Police Chief Mike Fillback, with two taken by helicopter to a hospital in St. Louis. Thirty others were sent to a nearby police station for evaluation.
The roof of the warehouse was ripped off, and one wall had caved in, Fillback said.
“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now,” Amazon spokesman Richard Rocha told the outlet. “We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.”
An Arkansas nursing home was hit by a tornado as well, killing at least one resident and trapping 20 others. Five people in the nursing home had serious injuries, but no additional deaths have been reported, according to Craighead County Judge Marvin Day.
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President Joe Biden announced Saturday morning he had been briefed by officials on the damage across the states and said he will work with the state governments to provide federal resources.
Over 135,000 homes in Tennessee are without power as of this morning, with three storm-related deaths in the northwest corner of the state. More than 92,000 buildings in Kentucky also have no electricity, according to Poweroutages.us.