MAYFIELD, Ky., Dec. 11 (Reuters) – At least 100 people were feared to die in Kentucky after a swarm of tornadoes ripped through a 200-mile road through the US Midwest and southern, demolishing houses, leveling businesses and sparking a scramble to find survivors under the rubble, authorities said Saturday.
Powerful tornadoes, which meteorologists say are unusual in colder months, destroyed a candle factory and fire and police stations in a small Kentucky town, ripped through a nursing home in neighboring Missouri, and killed at least six workers in an Amazon warehouse. in Illinois.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the collection of tornadoes was the most destructive in the state’s history. He said about 40 workers had been rescued at the candle factory in the city of Mayfield, which had about 110 people inside when it was reduced to a pile of rubble. It would be a “miracle” to find someone else alive under the rubble, Beshear said.
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“The devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life and I have trouble putting it into words,” Beshear told a news conference. “It is very likely that more than 100 people will be lost here in Kentucky.”
Beshear said 189 members of the National Guard have been deployed to help with the recovery. Rescue efforts will largely focus on Mayfield, home to about 10,000 people in the southwestern corner of the state, where it converges with Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.
Videos and photos posted on social media showed brick buildings in downtown Mayfield crushed, with parked cars nearly buried under rubble. The steeple of the historic Graves County courthouse collapsed 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 “pile of bent metal, steel and machinery” and that first responders sometimes had to “crawl over the victims to reach the victims alive. “
Paige Tingle said she drove four hours to the site in hopes of finding her 52-year-old mother, Jill Monroe, who was working at the factory and was last heard from at 9:30 p.m.
“We don’t know how to feel, we’re just trying to find her,” he said. “It’s a mess here.”
The genesis for the tornado outbreak was a series of overnight thunderstorms, including a super cellular storm that formed in northeast Arkansas. That storm moved from Arkansas and Missouri to Tennessee and Kentucky.
Unusually high temperatures and humidity set the scene for such an extreme weather event at this time of year, said Victor Gensini, professor of geographic and atmospheric sciences at Northern Illinois University.
“This is a historic event, if not generational,” Gensini said.
Saying the disaster was likely one of the largest tornado outbreaks in American history, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Kentucky on Saturday.
He told reporters that he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to examine what role climate change may have played in fueling storms, and raised questions about tornado warning systems.
“What warning was there? And was it strong enough and was it heeded?” Biden said.
‘LIKE A BIG BOMB’
About 130 miles east of Mayfield in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Justin Shepherd said his coffee shop was spared the worst of the storm, which hit other businesses hard on the busy commercial strip just off the US Beltway. Highway 31 West.
“We have some siding and roof damage here, but right across the street is a brewery half of which is gone. It’s just completely gone, like a big bomb went off or something.” .
One person was killed and five seriously injured when a tornado ripped through 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 in that. It could have been a lot worse,” Day told Reuters.
A few miles away in Leachville, Arkansas, a tornado destroyed a Dollar General store, killed one person and swept through much of downtown, said Lt. Chuck Brown of the Arkansas Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office.
“It really sounded like a train roaring through town.”
In Illinois, at least six workers were confirmed dead after an Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) warehouse collapsed in the city of Edwardsville, when winds ripped away the roof and reduced a wall longer than a square to rubble. football field.
Amazon truck driver Emily Epperson, 23, said she was eagerly awaiting information about the whereabouts of her co-worker Austin McEwan on Saturday afternoon to pass on to her girlfriend and parents.
“We are very concerned because we think that, you know, they would have already found it,” he told Reuters.
In Tennessee, severe weather killed at least three people, said Dean Flener, a spokesman for the state’s Emergency Management Agency. And two people, including a young child, died in their homes in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said it received 36 reports of tornadoes landing in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.
The weather forecast was pretty clear for Saturday night, but temperatures were expected to drop and thousands of residents are without 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 website that tracks power outages.
Kentucky officials asked residents to stay off the roads and donate blood as first responders rushed to rescue survivors and account for people in communities who had lost communications.
“We have guards that are knocking on doors and controlling 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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Cheney Orr Report; Additional reporting from 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
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