After tornadoes, at least 64 confirmed dead in Kentucky
By Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, Azi Paybarah, Eduardo Medina and Jim Tankersley
After grimly fluctuating death tolls since Friday’s devastating swarm of tornadoes, Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said Monday that there were 64 confirmed deaths in the state, although he expected that number to rise as crews continued to search through the ruins.
“It may be a week or even more before we have a final count,” the governor said in a news conference, adding that as many as 105 people in Kentucky were still unaccounted for.
Beshear said that of the confirmed deaths, 18 victims were still unidentified. The ages of those who had died, he said, his voice breaking with emotion, ranged from 5 months to 86 years. Six of the victims were younger than 18.
The White House announced that President Joe Biden would travel to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Wednesday for a storm briefing, and then visit Mayfield and Dawson Springs, which were particularly devastated by the tornadoes.
“We’re going to be there as long as it takes to help,” Biden said at a news conference, adding that he was worried about the mental health of survivors and the uncertainty they now face.
Full recovery seemed particularly remote Monday amid the ruins in Mayfield, where heavy machinery was lifting power lines and downed trees. Local residents were preparing meals in outdoor kitchens amid the remnants of people’s homes.
A candle factory in the town was completely crushed in the storm. An estimated 110 people were at work there Friday night when the tornado hit. For days, it was unclear how many had made it out.
On Sunday night, a glimmer of hope emerged, with executives at the company that operated the factory suggesting that the number of missing employees was much lower than initially thought.
Troy Propes, CEO of Mayfield Consumer Products, said eight employees were dead and fewer than 10 were still missing.
“We are actively working to confirm that information,” the governor said Monday, adding that Kentucky State Police investigators were working through a list of employees provided by the company to establish who was at the factory that night and who had made it out safely. “We pray that it is true.”
Even so, Beshear braced the public for more victims to be announced in the days ahead. At least eight counties in Kentucky had reported deaths, four of them with tolls in double digits. “There will be more,” Beshear said, estimating that around 1,000 homes statewide had been damaged or destroyed.
At several moments during Monday’s briefing, the governor appeared on the verge of tears.
“I’m not doing so well today,” he said. “I was working on getting the confirmed deaths this morning and realized I was writing on the back of notes that one of my kids took from school.” The topic of the schoolwork was inertia, which he said was appropriate. “We’re going to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Though praising the federal government for what they described as a quick and thorough response, Kentucky officials emphasized the difficult recovery ahead. Michael Dossett, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said: “This will go on for years.”
Other places in the path of the Friday storms, which cut a deadly swath across at least six states, were also recovering and grieving Monday.
In Illinois, six people were killed at an Amazon warehouse in the city of Edwardsville and one person is still receiving medical treatment, officials said. In a news briefing Monday, Amazon executives defended the safety procedures at the warehouse, while Gov. J.B Pritzker of Illinois said that investigations were underway into what happened before and during the storm.
Pritzker suggested that a trend of more intense weather events in recent years may call for an ambitious reexamination of building codes.
“It makes us wonder,” the governor said, “about whether or not we need to change code based upon the climate change that we’re seeing all around us.”
The toll also included four people who died in Tennessee. In Arkansas, at least one person was killed in a nursing home in Monette, and another died at a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville. Deaths were also reported in Missouri.