More than 100 feared dead after tornadoes tear through several states

Dec 13, 2021, 8:34 AM | Updated: 5:11 pm
MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY - DECEMBER 11: In this aerial view, homes are badly destroyed after a tornado ri...
MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY - DECEMBER 11: In this aerial view, homes are badly destroyed after a tornado ripped through area the previous evening on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states late evening December 11 causing widespread destruction and leaving an estimated 70-plus people dead. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
According to another CNN update, Kentucky governor reported that at least 64 people are confirmed dead and the death toll will “undoubtedly” increase. 
Originally Published: 12 DEC 21 04:26 ET
Updated: 12 DEC 21 20:49 ET

    (CNN) — More than 100 people are feared dead after a series of tornadoes ripped through several states in the Midwest and South and transformed homes and businesses into piles of rubble late Friday into Saturday.

In Kentucky alone, the death toll is at least 80 and is going to exceed 100, Gov. Andy Beshear told CNN on Sunday morning — making it the deadliest tornado event in the state’s history.

During a Sunday news conference, Beshear said 18 counties are reporting tornado-related damage. As of Sunday morning, between 36,000 — 50,000 individuals were without power, Beshear said.

“To the people of America, there is no lens big enough to show you the extent of the damage here in Graves County or in Kentucky,” the governor said.

Several state parks across Kentucky have been opened to help house families that have lost their homes, Beshear said.

“We are taking them in. We are trying to guarantee everyone a two-week stay so they’re not worried about tomorrow,” Beshear said. “They can worry about finding their relatives, making sure their kids have enough to eat.”

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Beshear confirmed a 3-year-old in Graves County and a 5-year-old in Muhlenberg County were among the dead.

“We’re going to grieve together. We’re going to dig out and cleanup together, and we will rebuild and move forward together,” Beshear said during the news conference.

Beshear also announced that more than 300 National Guard troops are on duty across nine counties. More than 100 of them are stationed in Graves County, said Brig. Gen. Robert Larkin, who is a part of the Kentucky National Guard leadership team.

As a result of the catastrophic damage in Kentucky, federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency are also helping.

“Because housing, we know, is going to be such a tremendous need, we are sending in one of our housing experts that will be here tomorrow to begin the strategy for how we’re going to be able to help with the long-term housing needs and the recovery of these communities,” said Deanne Criswell, FEMA administrator.

Criswell also indicated Beshear requested a major federal disaster declaration from the federal government. President Joe Biden’s administration approved a disaster declaration on Saturday, but a major disaster declaration would allow for even more federal resources and funds to the affected areas.

Tornadoes and storms wreak havoc across Midwest and South

Arkansas officials have reported two weather-related deaths; Tennessee has confirmed four; Illinois has reported six; and Missouri two. Though Beshear said the death toll in Kentucky was at least 80, the state has not released an official number.

Across the region, destroyed buildings, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets in hard-hit areas, making it tougher for rescuers trying to reach communities left with no working phone or power lines. More than 50,000 customers in Kentucky were without power as of Sunday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US.

At least 50 tornadoes were reported across eight states, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. CNN meteorologists said a stretch of more than 250 miles from Arkansas to Kentucky might have been hit by one violent, long-track twister.

As of Sunday, five EF-3 tornadoes were identified in the following localities: Defiance, Missouri; Edwardsville, Illinois; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Saloma, Kentucky and in Kentucky between Cayce and Beaver Creek, an area that includes the devastated town of Mayfield.

According Criswell, the FEMA administrator, the severe storms are the “new normal” in an era of climate change.

“The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation,” Criswell said. “We’re taking a lot of efforts at FEMA to work with communities to help reduce the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events and help to develop systemwide projects that can help protect communities.”

Despite her assertion, scientific research on climate change’s influence on tornadoes is not as robust as for other types of extreme weather like droughts, floods and even hurricanes. The short and small scale of tornadoes, along with an extremely spotty and unreliable historical record for them, makes assessing their relationships to long-term, human-caused climate change very difficult.

Candle factory collapse in Kentucky

In Mayfield, Kentucky, a city of around 10,000 people, the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory collapsed into a massive pile of debris, and rescuers used their hands and machines to dig through the destruction.

“There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there. It will be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it,” Beshear said. “Downtown is completely devastated.”

Eight people died at the candle factory and eight others are unaccounted for as of Sunday night, company spokesperson Bob Ferguson told CNN on Sunday.

“We know for sure that more than 90 employees escaped with their lives on the night of the tornadoes,” Ferguson said.

Troy Propes, CEO of the company that owns the factory, said he believed workers there followed the proper tornado safety protocols.

“Our factory was built as a manufacturing facility and the concrete walls and the steel frame and the structure,” he said. “You would have thought it would have been one of the safest places but ironically, as you can see with this devastation, there wasn’t anything safe about this storm.”

“I think hindsight is always an incredible lens to look through but I think everybody made the best decisions and the right decisions with the information that they had,” he added.

Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan told CNN’s Pamela Brown she heard that the number of actual casualties at the candle factory is lower than was originally reported.

“In the days to come we will find that out — that quite possibly maybe only half of the casualties, but we can’t say that for sure,” she said.

There’s still a search-and-rescue effort going on at the factory, O’Nan said law enforcement officials told her, and that’s expected to last 10 days from when teams started going through the site. After that, she said, the mission will be changed to a recovery effort.

Some family members are still searching for relatives who worked inside.

Paige Tingle, who was looking for her mother-in-law, Jill Monroe, said time is of the essence. The last time the family spoke with her, she was in the bathroom in the safe shelter area,” Tingle said Saturday.

“She (Monroe) has lung problems, she has heart problems,” Tingle said. “We’ve got to get her.”

The family checked local hospitals but they haven’t found her. Calls to her phone have gone unanswered.

Ivy Williams was at the Mayfield site Saturday looking for his wife of 30-plus years, Janine Williams, who was at the factory.

“I hope she’s somewhere safe,” Williams said, through tears. “Please call me … I’m looking for you, baby.” He last heard from her before the tornado hit, and was shocked to find the building leveled when he arrived at the scene.

First responders have pulled people out of the rubble — some of them alive, storm chaser Michael Gordon told CNN Saturday from the scene.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about. … They’re digging in that rubble by hand right now,” Gordon said.

Power outages and road-blocking debris

Beshear visited some of the affected areas Saturday to assess the damage. In his father’s hometown of Dawson Springs, which has a population of about 2,700, some remain unaccounted for.

“One block from my grandparents’ house, there’s no house standing and we don’t know where all those people are,” Beshear said.

The death toll in Dawson Springs grew to 13 — up from 10 on Saturday — with two victims recovered Sunday, Hopkins County Coroner Dennis Mayfield said. The dead included two elderly sisters who lived together, as well as a husband and wife.

The fatalities range in age from 34-86, Mayfield said. The missing persons list is still more than 100, but he said officials believe most of those are people who left town and haven’t checked in yet.

As for those who lost homes, “hundreds and hundreds are displaced,” said Nick Bailey, the director of emergency management in Hopkins County.

“Almost an entire city has been displaced at this point,” Bailey said.

The state has deployed the National Guard to conduct searches, clear debris from roadways, and take generators to help power shelters and hospitals. The governor urged people in affected communities that still have power to stay off the roads.

“Let our first responders get to everybody. Don’t go to these areas to see it. We need to make sure those who do this work can do it at the fastest possible speed,” he said.

Kentucky State Police Lt. Dean Patterson said the destruction is unlike anything he’s seen before. And the rescue and recovery effort will come with challenges.

“It’s a very thorough and slow process, because you have to be careful when you are dealing with so much debris, and so many unknowns. One wrong move and you could actually cause more damage, so it’s a slow, methodical process.”

A hospital in Paducah, Kentucky, around 27 miles north of Mayfield, has been treating tornado victims. A majority of them had chemical burns, long bone injuries and crush injuries, Mercy Health Lourdes Hospital spokesperson Nanette Bentley said.

Tornadoes also caused destruction at the courthouse in Graves County, Kentucky, about 17 miles southwest of Mayfield. District Judge Brian Crick died during the storm, according to a statement from Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.

“This is shocking loss to his family, his community and the court system, and his family is in our prayers,” Minton’s statement reads.

National Weather Service Chief Meteorologist John Gordon told a news conference in Kentucky that the tornado event was a “worst-case scenario.”

“Warm air in the cold season, middle of the night — this sickens me to see what has happened,” he said. “Look at the pictures on your screens. Homes, totally impaled, two-by-fours through cars, 18-wheelers thrown 30 feet moved in the northwesterly direction — that takes a lot of force.”

Amazon warehouse and nursing home also collapsed

In addition to Kentucky, deadly destruction was also reported in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

At least six people died at the collapsed Amazon warehouse in the Illinois city of Edwardsville, Fire Chief James Whiteford said. The recovery phase is expected to take three more days and first responders will continue to search the site for evidence of life, he said.

The six dead ranged in age from 26 to 62, the Edwardsville Police Department said.

One of the victims was identified as Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old US Navy veteran. He had worked for Amazon for just over a year as a maintenance mechanic, his mother, Carla Cope, said. His father also worked at the facility in the same position.

“Had (Clay) not been there, my husband would have,” she said.

An Amazon representative said a tornado warning siren sounded 11 minutes before the storm’s arrival.

“Managers were on the loudspeakers telling people to get to the shelter-in-place area. They were also being guided by other managers and other employees who were trying to get everybody to that safe location,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNN affiliate KSDK on Sunday.

She said employees sheltered in two unspecified safe areas. Nantel said dispatchers also contacted Amazon delivery drivers in the area and told them to shelter in place.

In the northeastern Arkansas city of Monette, at least one person was killed at a nursing home damaged by a tornado, Mayor Bob Blankenship said.

A second person died after the storm hit a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, officials said. That person was identified Sunday as store assistant manager June Pennington of Mississippi County, Arkansas, according to county spokesman Tom Henry.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday it was a “miracle” that only one person died at the nursing home.

“As I went to that facility, it was like heaven sucked up the roof and all the contents of it. And it’s just a miracle with 67 residents that we only lost one there. And that’s because of the heroic efforts by the staff and also the fact that we had 20 minutes of warning,” he said.

Officials confirmed two storm-related deaths in Missouri, including a woman killed at home in St. Charles County and a young child killed at home in Pemiscot County, the governor said.

Tennessee was reporting four weather-related deaths from the severe weather. Two were in Lake County, one in Obion County and one in Shelby County, Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Dean Flener said.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

After six years leading USU, and an overall 32 year career with the school, President Noelle E. Coc...
Simone Seikaly

USU President Noelle E. Cockett will step down

USU President Noelle E. Cockett has been part of the college's community for 32 years.
2 months ago
A national survey finds Utah the third safest state when it comes to drunk driving fatalities....
Simone Seikaly

Utah one of the leading states for low levels of drunk driving

SALT LAKE CITY — Forbes Advisor has ranked American states to determine which have the highest number of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes. Their results put Utah third in the nation for the lowest rate of drunk driving. The District of Columbia and New Jersey each ranked higher than Utah when considering this data. […]
2 months ago
free transit rides...
Elizabeth Weiler

Free public transit rides come to Heber Valley

HEBER CITY, Utah — In the summer of 2022, Wasatch County Council approved a sales tax which is now providing funding for free public transit rides throughout Heber Valley.  Wasatch County and High Valley Transit entered a three-year, $3 million agreement to offer public bus transit services between Wasatch and Summit Counties, along with micro-transit […]
2 months ago
carbon monoxide poisoning...
Ali Litzinger

Carbon monoxide poisoning on the rise in winter months

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is approaching and officials want people to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Last year, nearly 200 Utahns were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.  The flame in a gas appliance should generally be blue, with some orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, it’s giving off excess carbon monoxide.  […]
2 months ago
nichole olsen was shot and killed outside a nightclub in dowtown salt lake city over the weekend....
Elizabeth Weiler

Man arrested for murder in weekend shooting outside nightclub in Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY — A Southern Utah man has been arrested and booked into jail in connection with the shooting death of a Salt Lake City woman over the weekend. Nichole Olsen, 29, was shot and killed outside a nightclub near 300 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City around 2 a.m. Sunday. Police have […]
2 months ago
A “for sale” sign is displayed outside of a house in Layton. 
Photo: Shafkat Anowar, Deseret Ne...
Adam Small

Salt Lake seeing highest drop in home sales, national report finds

Utah's home sales are dropping fast according to a new national report. Prices have dropped by 48% in the last 12 months.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
More than 100 feared dead after tornadoes tear through several states