EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — There are likely to be at least 50 deaths after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky and other U.S. states late Friday and early Saturday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said.
“It’s devastating,” Beshear told a news conference early Saturday, adding that he had declared a state of emergency and activated 181 guardsmen from the National Guard.
“We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians and probably end up closer to 70 or 100 lost lives,” he said. “We will make it through this,” he added. “We will rebuild, we are strong, resilient people.”
Three people died in severe weather in Tennessee, one person died and several were injured in an apparent tornado at an Arkansas nursing home, and emergency crews in southern Illinois were responding to reports of workers trapped inside an Amazon warehouse after its roof collapsed from storm damage.
At least one fatality was also reported in Missouri as severe storms, some believed to be tornadoes, swept across the Midwest and parts of the South late Friday and into Saturday morning.
In Tennessee, two storm-related fatalities were reported in Lake County in the state’s northwestern corner, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. A third death was reported in neighboring Obion County. Flener said the Tennessee Department of Health confirmed the deaths, however there were no other details immediately released.
A tornado struck the Monette Manor nursing home in Arkansas on Friday night, killing one person and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told The Associated Press.
Five people had serious injuries, and a few others had minor ones, he said. The nursing home has 86 beds.
Day said another nursing home about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away in Truman was badly damaged but no injuries were reported. The residents were being evacuated because the building is unsafe.
Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take shelter as a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles west of St. Louis. One person died and two others were injured in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both just a few miles from the weather service office.
At least 100 emergency vehicles descended upon the Amazon warehouse near Edwardsville, Illinois, about 25 miles east of St. Louis, where a wall that was about the length of a football field collapsed, as did the roof above it.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were hurt, but one person was flown by helicopter to a hospital.
Edwardsville Police Chief Mike Fillback said several people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation. By early Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble to determine if anyone was trapped inside. Fillback said the process would last for several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.
“Please be patient with us. Our fire personnel are doing everything they can to reunite everyone with their loved ones,” Fillback said on KMOV-TV.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville opened with two warehouses in 2016, with 1.5 million square feet of space. The warehouses are used to store items until they are shipped to mail-order customers.
“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement Friday night. “We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.”
In the southwestern Kentucky community of Mayfield, several buildings collapsed during the severe weather, said Sarah Burgess, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police.
She said several people were trapped inside a damaged candle factory in Mayfield and that a shift was ongoing when the storm hit.
“The entire building is essentially leveled,” she said.
Although no deaths were immediately reported in Mayfield, coroners were summoned to the community, Burgess said. “We do expect loss of life,” she said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency early Saturday for what he said was major tornado damage in several western counties. Beshear said the National Guard has been summoned to respond to the region.
“We have had multiple tornadoes touch down in dozens of Kentucky counties,” Beshear told The Associated Press in a phone interview early Saturday.
Photos posted to social media from Mayfield showed uprooted trees, a courthouse steeple sheered off and business windows blown out in the storms.
Farther east in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky University said on Twitter that emergency crews were assessing significant storm damage and that no injuries were immediately reported.
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