Dozens are feared dead after a series of season-defying tornadoes Friday night in several U.S. states, causing a wide swath of destruction from weather conditions more common in spring.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to the governors of the five states hit by the tornadoes: Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. And he approved an emergency declaration for Kentucky, allowing the use of federal funds there.
Biden tweeted Saturday that he was briefed on the situations and said his administration is “working with Governors to ensure they have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a news conference early Saturday that at least 70 people were likely killed in his state, including in a candle factory in the town of Mayfield, where about 110 people were working. He said he expects the toll to climb.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Beshear said at a news conference.
Teams searched through the factory debris on Saturday, looking for about 60 employees who were working when the tornado struck.
“It was absolutely the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” one of the survivors, Kyana Parsons-Perez, said in an interview that aired on NBC’s “Today” show. “I did not think I was going to make it.”
The tornado in Mayfield was one of at least four that devastated at least 10 counties in Kentucky. Beshear said one tornado churned through about 322 kilometers of land in the state.
Storms also swept through the Kentucky city of Bowling Green, killing an off-campus Western Kentucky University student, according to the university’s president.
Beshear declared a state of emergency, activated the Kentucky National Guard and deployed the state police.
In neighboring Tennessee, three people were killed as storms hit the northwestern corner of the state, according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener.
In Edwardsville, Illinois, Police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters Saturday morning that at least one person was killed when the roof of an Amazon facility was torn off and the building partially collapsed. He said a rescue operation is underway and two people at the facility were taken by helicopter to nearby hospitals.
“This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
It was not immediately clear if the damage in Edwardsville was caused by straight-line storms or a tornado, but a National Weather Service office in the neighboring state of Missouri reported “radar-confirmed tornadoes” in the area around the time the building was hit.
Near the Missouri towns of Defiance and New Melle, one person was killed and two others injured in building collapses, authorities said.
A tornado also hit a nursing home in Monette in northern Arkansas, killing one person and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, according to Craighead County Judge Marvin Day. He said five people sustained serious injuries and a few received minor ones.
Day said first responders rescued those trapped in the building that was “pretty much destroyed.”
Another person died when the storm hit a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said, according to the Associated Press.
“Probably the most remarkable thing is that there’s not a greater loss of life,” Hutchinson said after touring the wreckage of the nursing home. “It is catastrophic. It’s a total destruction.”
Scientists are warning with increasing urgency that global warming is making storms more powerful and frequent, posing even greater threats to areas where extreme weather is already common.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP.