Hope Amid the Rubble: Kentucky Tornado Death Toll Could Fall Significantly

Up to 70 people at a Mayfield candle factory had been believed dead, but that number could be revised down to 16 or fewer, a company spokesman said

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Heavy damage after a tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky, on Saturday.
Heavy damage after a tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky, on Saturday.Credit: Brett Carlson / AFP
Reuters
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A devastating swarm of tornadoes ripped through six U.S. states, killing people in Kentucky and leaving a trail of destroyed homes and businesses along a path that stretched more than 200 miles, officials said on Saturday.

At least four tornadoes touched down overnight in parts of Kentucky, causing significant damage in more than a dozen counties. The primary tornado travelled more than 227 miles (365 km) across the state, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said.

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The powerful twisters, which weather forecasters say are unusual in cooler months, destroyed a candle factory and the fire and police stations in a small town in Kentucky, ripped through a nursing home in neighboring Missouri, and killed at least six workers at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois.

"The level of devastation is unlike anything that I have ever seen," Beshear said. 

He said 189 National Guard personnel have been deployed to assist with the emergency response.

Some of the worst destruction was in Mayfield, a small city of about 10,000 people in the far western part of Kentucky, where the state converges with Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

Out of 110 people who were inside a candle factory in the area, at least 70 were believed dead but that number could be revised down to 16 or fewer, a company spokesman said, raising the possibility the governor's death toll estimate could come down significantly.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez, who was inside the factory, said the roof collapsed soon after the workers could hear and feel the hollowing winds and the lights began flickering.

Heavy damage after a tornado swept through Mayfield, Kentucky, on Saturday.Credit: Brett Carlson / AP

"We could feel the wind ... then we did a little rock," Parsons-Perez told NBC. "And then boom everything came down on us."

Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason, whose own station was destroyed, said the candle factory was diminished to a "pile of bent metal and steel and machinery" and that responders had to at times "crawl over casualties to get to live victims."

Video and photos posted on social media showed brick buildings in downtown Mayfield reduced to rubble, with parked cars nearly buried under bricks and debris. The steeple on the Graves County courthouse in Mayfield appeared to have been toppled, photos on Twitter showed.

In the early hours, more than 56,000 people in Kentucky were without power, Beshear said. He declared a state of emergency and was deploying dozens of national guardsmen.

The genesis of the tornado outbreak was a series of overnight thunderstorms, including a super cell storm that formed in northeast Arkansas. That storm moved from Arkansas and Missouri and into Tennessee and Kentucky.

"Unfortunately it produced a couple of deadly tornadoes along the way. One of them may have been a long-track tornado," Storm Prediction Center meteorologist Roger Edward said. "The killer tornado was part of that."

'Like a train roaring through town' 

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

"It just took a direct hit from the tornado," Day told Reuters. "We were very blessed that more people weren't killed or injured in that. It could have been a whole lot worse."

A few miles away in Leachville, Arkansas, a tornado destroyed a Dollar General Store, killing one person, and laid waste to much of the city's downtown, according to Lt. Chuck Brown of the Mississippi County Sheriff's Office in Arkansas.

"It really sounded like a train roaring through town."

Drone footage of the Amazon warehouse where at least six  showed a chaotic scene in the early morning dark, with many emergency vehicles around the area and rescuers with flashlights combing through debris.

The roof appeared to have been peeled back off the metal skeleton of the building.

In Tennessee, the severe weather killed at least three people, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the state's Emergency Management Agency. Flener said two died in Lake County and one in Obion County, but did not have any information about the circumstances of the deaths.

Shortly after midnight, the weather caused a CSX company freight train to derail in western Kentucky, although no crew were injured, a company spokesperson said.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said it received 36 reports of tornadoes touching down in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas, and Mississippi.

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