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Tornado death toll rises as states assess damage


A candle factory amid the aftermath of a series of tornadoes that swept through Mayfield, Ky., Dec. 12, 2021.

By Rick Rojas, Jamie McGee, Laura Faith Kebede and Campbell Robertson


Scores of people remained unaccounted for Sunday but little hope remained as rescue workers across the middle of the country resumed their search efforts after a flurry of tornadoes ripped through at least six states Friday night, killing more than 90 people.


Officials warned that the toll, which included at least 80 in Kentucky alone, was almost certain to rise as they sifted through the ruins.


The tornadoes tore through states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, said Bill Bunting, operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service.


The tornado outbreak killed people who were working the Friday night shifts at a candle factory in Kentucky, where scores are believed to have died, and at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, where at least six people were killed. On Sunday, officials in Edwardsville, Illinois, said there were no more reports of people missing inside the Amazon facility, but search efforts for additional victims continued.


Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said that it would be “a miracle” to find anyone still alive in the factory. He added that across the state, many people were still missing, although he did not specify how many. Among the dead, he said, were children, including a 3-year-old in Graves County and a 5-year-old in Muhlenberg County.


“It’s devastation like none of us have ever seen before,” Beshear said.


He called it the most devastating tornado event in Kentucky history.


In a speech Saturday afternoon in Delaware, where he was spending the weekend, President Joe Biden said his administration would do “everything it can possibly do to help” the states that had sustained serious damage in the tornado outbreak.


“This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history,” he said, adding that he had approved the emergency declaration that was requested by Beshear.


Several tornadoes touched down in Kentucky, one of them traveling for more than 200 ruinous miles.


While the destruction was spread throughout western Kentucky, much of the estimated death toll came from a single building, the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, just southwest of the small city of Mayfield. Officials described an almost unfathomable level of destruction there, a knot of concrete and metal strewn with cars and 55-gallon drums leaking corrosive fluids into the wreckage.


In Tennessee, at least four people were confirmed dead, with the worst damage reported in the northwestern corner of the state. In Arkansas, one person died at a Dollar General store in Leachville, and a 94-year-old man was killed when the tornado slammed into a nursing home in the city of Monette.


And in Missouri, at least one person died and two others were injured when a tornado slammed down in the community of Defiance.


Officials in Edwardsville, Illinois, a small city across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, said that at least six people had been killed at an Amazon warehouse when a direct hit from a tornado around 8:30 p.m. Friday caused two of the building’s 40-foot-high concrete walls to collapse.


“We don’t expect that anyone could be surviving,” said James Whiteford, chief of the Edwardsville Fire Department.


The chief said that the tornado had come at the time of a shift change and that it was unclear how many people would have been in the building.

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