At least six people were killed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois after a direct hit from a tornado caused a large part of the building to collapse Friday night, authorities said.
Forty-five people were confirmed to have exited the building, Edwardsville, Illinois fire chief James Whiteford said at a news conference Saturday.
Edwardsville is about 25 miles east of St. Louis, and the Amazon building is in a distribution center on the west side of the city with about 20 warehouses ranging from about 100,000 to 1.4 million square feet. said Mark Mayfield, a captain with the Edwardsville Fire. Department. The tornado caused a wall the size of a football field in the warehouse to collapse, along with the roof above it, according to The Associated Press.
“About half of what’s left is gone,” Captain Mayfield said of the building, which is about 400,000 square feet. The other half of the building remained standing Saturday morning, he said. A bus took several workers to meet families on nearby Pontoon Beach, said Michael Fillback, the Edwardsville Police Chief.
“There is a lot of concrete rubble; which is predominantly a concrete and steel structure, “Chief Fillback said Saturday morning, adding,” It’s windy outside so things are unstable. ”
First responders received the initial call at 8:38 p.m. and arrived several minutes later, Capt. Mayfield said, with about 100 first responders on the scene shortly after the building collapsed. More than a dozen police, fire and emergency medical departments responded.
Alonzo Harris, an Amazon delivery driver, finished his route Friday night and walked into the warehouse when an alarm began to ring on his work phone. A colleague was running and yelling at drivers that this was not a drill, he said. They needed to get out of their vehicles and seek shelter, he remembered that she screamed.
“She put herself at risk,” said Harris, a 44-year-old St. Louis resident who has worked at Amazon since September. “She saved my life.”
Moments after Mr. Harris entered the shelter, “there was a loud roar; the building started shaking, “he said. “It felt like the ground was peeling off the ground. I felt the wind blow and I saw debris flying everywhere, and people started yelling and howling and the lights went out. ”
Harris likened the sensation to earthquakes in California, where he grew up. “When the ground shook, that’s how it felt,” he said Saturday afternoon, after returning to the scene to pick up his car. “I’m not afraid of anything, but that scared me.”
On Saturday morning, workers appeared to be using a crane to clear debris from the site. The winds continued to blow at more than 20 miles per hour, causing the cars to shake.
Heavy machinery was brought in to move the collapsed walls to make sure no other people were missing, and rescue teams were checking the interiors of vehicles that had been crushed by the collapsed walls.
“We are deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Illinois,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement Saturday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones and all those affected by the tornado.”
Amazon opened two warehouses in Edwardsville in 2016, employing about 2,200 people, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017.
When Amazon opened the facility, “it put us on the map,” said Walter Williams, economic development coordinator for Madison County, which includes Edwardsville. “When more people saw Amazon here, they started saying, ‘We have to look there.