US tornado: Death toll could be ‘well over’ 100 from overnight storms, governor says

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Intl desk, Dec 12: Storms unleashed devastating tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday across parts of the central and southern United States, collapsing buildings into twisted debris and claiming lives, with officials fearing the death toll could exceed 80.

Workers use equipment to remove a section of roof left on a heavily damaged Amazon fulfillment center Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill. The a large section of the roof of the building was ripped off and walls collapsed when a strong storms moved through area Friday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In Kentucky alone, the state’s governor says more than 70 people could have died after “one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history.”

Among the most significant damage: Tornadoes or strong winds collapsed an occupied candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon warehouse in western Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas, killing people in each community and leaving responders scrambling to rescue others.

More than 30 tornadoes have been reported in at least six states, including Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi. A stretch of more than 250 miles from Arkansas to Kentucky might have been hit by one violent, long-track twister, CNN meteorologists say.

“I’m pretty sure that number (killed in Kentucky) is north of 70 … it may, in fact exceed 100 before the day is done,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said late Saturday morning. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.”

One of the most devastated sites is the southwestern Kentucky city of Mayfield, where a tornado hit the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Friday night while people were working. About 110 people were inside and dozens are feared dead there, Beshear said.

“They rescued 40,” Beshear said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there, it will be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it.”

The governor said he also visited Dawson Springs, his father’s hometown, with a population of about 2,700 where he says, “they’re going to lose a whole lot of people.”

“One block from my grandparent’s house, there’s no house standing and we don’t know where all those people are,” Beshear said.

Video from Mayfield showed what remained of the factory there: a massive debris field, largely of twisted metal, several feet high, with rescuers using hands and machines to dig through.

Among the survivors were Kyanna Parsons-Perez, who said workers had been hustled to a safety area before the storm hit. While attendance was being taken, she saw “a little dust of wind.”

“My ears start popping. And it was like the building, we all just rocked back and forth, and then boom — everything fell on us,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez told CNN’s Boris Sanchez.

Pinned by debris with others, she used her phone to broadcast on Facebook Live, and called 911, her mother and a coworker’s relative. She knew rescuers were around only when she could feel pressure from above — people walking on the debris.

“I was screaming like, ‘Sir, can you please just get this so I can move my leg?’ He said, ‘Ma’am, there’s about 5 feet worth of debris on top of you,'” she said.

Rescuers eventually pulled her and others out, she said.

An official Kentucky death toll hasn’t been released; deaths have been reported in Arkansas (two), Tennessee (four), Illinois (six) and Missouri (two).

In Warren County, Kentucky, children are among 12 storm-related fatalities, the county coroner’s office confirmed to CNN Saturday afternoon.

Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby said that most of the fatalities are from the Russellville Road area.

The National Guard and other Kentucky state personnel are deploying to hard-hit areas for “house-to-house” searches and debris removal, Beshear told CNN.

“I want to thank every local emergency management employee, police officer, firefighter and first responder. This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history. It’s hard to put into words,” he said in a later statement. “Remember, each of these lost lives are children of God, irreplaceable to their families and communities. But we will make it through this. We will rebuild. We are strong, resilient people — and we’re going to be there every step of the way. This is one state standing strong.”

He declared a state of emergency.

Biden to travel to damaged region

President Joe Biden told reporters traveling with him in Wilmington, Delaware, Saturday he had been closely monitoring the situation and had called the governors of the states that had been severely impacted by one of the “largest tornado outbreaks in our history.”

“I want to emphasize what I told all the governors, the federal government will do everything, everything you can possibly do to help,” he said, adding that he’d deploy the National Guard to states that deemed it necessary.

Biden told reporters he plans to travel to the region to survey storm damage when circumstances allow but didn’t want to be in the way.

MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY – DECEMBER 11: An aerial view of homes and business destroyed by a tornado on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several midwestern states late Friday evening causing widespread destruction and leaving an estimated 70-plus people dead. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“When a president shows up, he shows up with an awful lot of personnel, an awful lot of vehicles, an awful lot of — we can get in the way, unintentionally. And so, I’m working with the governor of Kentucky and others who may want me to be there, I made sure that we’re a value-added at the time, and we’re not going to get in the way of the rescue and recovery, but I do plan on going,” he said.

“My heart aches for those people right now, including the rescuers, including the burden on them and what they worry about,” Biden said. “I just think that we just have to keep at it. We have to keep focused. And this is going to be the focus of my attention until we get this finished.”

In an earlier message on Twitter, Biden called losing a loved one in storms like this an “unimaginable tragedy.”

He said he had spoken with Beshear and “indicated that he has directed FEMA and other federal agencies to provide the speediest assistance possible to impacted communities,” the White House said.

The White House later said Biden had approved a federal emergency declaration for Kentucky.

Source: CNN