Tornadoes, storms strike US; Kentucky gov fears dozens dead

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First responders work outside an Amazon fulfillment center after it was heavily damaged when a strong thunderstorm moved through the area Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Tornadoes and severe weather wreaked major damage in multiple states late Friday, tearing through a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois, a nursing home in Arkansas and numerous homes and buildings. Dozens of deaths are feared and several were confirmed Saturday morning.

Many people were feared dead at the factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, where Gov. Andy Beshear called the situation “tragic” at a news conference Saturday morning.

“There were about 110 people in it at the time that the tornado hit it,” Beshear said. “We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians and probably end up 70 to 100.”

The governor added, “It’s very hard, really tough, and we’re praying for each and every one of those families.”

At least one person died after severe weather struck an an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, 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 by helicopter to hospitals in St. Louis for treatment, Fillback said. The chief did not know which hospitals the two had been taken to, or their conditions. Edwardsville is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of St. Louis.

Emergency vehicles stage outside an Amazon fulfillment center after it was heavily damaged when a strong thunderstorm moved through the area Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the damage was caused by straight-line storms or a tornado, but the National Weather Service office near St. Louis reported “radar-confirmed tornadoes” in the Edwardsville area at around the time of the collapse.

About 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach 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.

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.”

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 (48 kilometers) 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 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.

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

In Kentucky, several buildings collapsed during the severe weather that struck Mayfield, said Sarah Burgess, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police.

She said several people were trapped inside a damaged candle factory and that a shift was ongoing when the storm hit.

“The entire building is essentially leveled,” she said.

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. However, the school called off commencement ceremonies that were planned for Saturday because the campus was without power.

“It’s obvious we had major wind damage,” said Ronnie Ward, a Bowling Green police spokesman, in a telephone interview.

Rescue efforts in Bowling Green and elsewhere were hampered by debris strewn across roads. Ward said numerous apartment complexes in Bowling Green 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.

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