70 feared dead in Kentucky after tornadoes and violent storms strike several states

People survey damage from a tornado in Mayfield, Ky.
People survey damage from a tornado in Mayfield, Ky., on Saturday after tornadoes and severe weather overnight caused catastrophic damage and dozens of deaths across multiple states.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

Kentucky’s governor said at least 70 may have died in the state and the toll was climbing after tornadoes and severe weather ripped through at least five states overnight, leaving widespread devastation.

Gov. Andy Beshear said the twister touched down for more than 200 miles in Kentucky and the final death toll could exceed 100 across 10 or more counties.

“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Beshear said at a news conference Saturday.


The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois and a nursing home in Arkansas. Beshear said about 110 people were in the candle factory in Mayfield when the tornado hit.

By late morning, officials had confirmed 18 deaths. But Beshear said the toll was certain to rise, with at least 10 people feared dead in Muhlenberg County and an undetermined number in and around the city of Bowling Green.

Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess said rescue crews were using heavy equipment to move rubble at the factory in western Kentucky. Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she didn’t know how many. She said it could take a day or longer to remove all the rubble.

Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield’s main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado, said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and EMS director.

“We have been working tirelessly through the night,” he said. “We had to at times crawl over casualties to get to live victims to get them out.”

Multiple buildings in downtown Mayfield were destroyed. The tornado sheared the roofs off some structures, downed trees and left debris scattered across a wide area.

President Biden tweeted Saturday that he was briefed on the situation and pledged the affected states would “have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue.”

Kyana Parsons-Perez, an employee at the candle factory, said she was trapped under five feet of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today,” she said it was “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all.”

Just before the tornado struck, the building’s lights flickered, she said. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started “popping” and then, “Boom. Everything came down on us.” People started screaming, and she heard some of her co-workers praying.

Among those who helped rescue the trapped workers were inmates from the nearby Graves County Jail, she said.

“They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything, but they did not. They were there, helping us,” she said. Elsewhere in Graves County, the landscape was a scene of utter devastation with uprooted trees, downed utility poles, a store destroyed and homes severely damaged.

At least one person died at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Ill., Police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters Saturday morning. The roof of the building was ripped off and a wall about the length of a football field collapsed.

Two people at the facility were taken to hospitals in St. Louis, about 25 miles away, Fillback said. Their conditions were unknown. About 30 people who were in the building were taken to the police station for evaluation.

Early Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble. Fillback said the process could take several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.

“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.

National Weather Service staffers tracking the storms had to temporarily suspend operations and take shelter as a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Mo., 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.

A tornado struck the Monette Manor nursing home in the town of Monette in northeastern Arkansas on Friday night, killing one 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. Another person died when the storm hit a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

“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.”

Three storm-related deaths were confirmed in northwestern Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Two occurred in Lake County and the third was in Obion County.

When the storms swept through Bowling Green, Ky., near the Tennessee border, they tore roofs off homes and flung debris into roadways. A GM Corvette Assembly Plant and the nearby Corvette Museum sustained light damage. A semitrailer was overturned and pushed against a building just across the street.

Western Kentucky University’s president said on Twitter that one of its student who lived off-campus was killed. The school called off commencement ceremonies that were planned for Saturday in Bowling Green because the campus was without power.

Ronnie Ward, a Bowling Green police spokesman, said in a telephone interview that rescue efforts were hampered by debris strewn across roads. Ward said numerous apartment complexes had major structural damage, and some factories had collapsed during the storms.

“Right now we’re focusing on the citizens, trying to get to everybody that needs us,” Ward said.

Salter reported from O'Fallon, Mo. The Associated Press’ John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.