Across the South and Midwest, survivors emerged Saturday to find blue sky and splinters where homes once stood, cars flung into buildings, and communications crippled after dozens of tornadoes chainsawed through a region of millions, leveling small towns along the way.
After a large number of people died after five states that were struck by tornadoes on Friday, President Joe Biden approved the emergency declaration requested by governors in the impacted states.
Biden spoke with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to express his condolences for the lives lost and the damage impacting their states as a result of the tornadoes and extreme weather overnight.
The President asked each Governor what his state needs and he was joined on the call by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Chavez Rodriguez.
Bodies were pulled from a candle factory destroyed in Kentucky, and deaths confirmed at an Amazon facility that was ripped apart in Illinois and a nursing home that was hit in Arkansas after one or more tornadoes slammed a 250-mile-long area in a possible “quad-state” tornado.
Search and rescue operations continue in the hardest-hit areas in Kentucky with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but officials worry the death toll could be very high.
“I’m monitoring the situation very closely since early this morning,” said Biden, who also spoke with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the senators who is elected to represent Kentucky. “This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.”
More than 100 employees were working on the night shift at Mayfield Consumer Products when a tornado swept through and flattened the metal building on top of them in the candle factory, in Mayfield, Ky. About 40 people were rescued; but just as many remain unaccounted for and are feared dead.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear offered a grim assessment of the candle factory and nearby buildings after a tornado caused heavy damage in the area, where authorities believe dozens of people may have died.
Beshear flew to Mayfield on Saturday morning and the candle factory was his first stop.
“There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there,” said Beshear during a news conference, after touring a number of severely damaged areas of the state. “It’ll be a miracle if anyone else is found alive in it.”
The walls “collapsed inward” at an Amazon fulfillment center where packages are loaded onto vans for home delivery and “the roof of the building collapsed downward so most of the weight of the building landed centrally into the building,” according to Edwardsville, Illinois Fire Chief James Whitefor, who also said: “These walls are made out of 11-inch-thick concrete and they’re about 40 feet tall, so a lot of weight on that came down.”
Biden’s declaration orders federal assistance to help with local response efforts, demonstrating his commitment to helping Americans recover.
“Today, Kentucky is absolutely united,” said Beshear. “We are united with our people; united to find and rescue as many as possible; united to grieve; and united to be here for our families impacted – not just today, but in the years to come so that we can rebuild together.”
Beshear urged citizens to give blood. “We were already pretty short with COVID out there. We’re going to have a lot of deaths, but we are also going to have a lot of injuries,” the Governor said.
Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said that a tornado struck the Monette Manor nursing home at about 8:15 p.m., trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed.
About 90 minutes later the building had been cleared and everyone initially believed to have been inside had been accounted for, but Day said crews still must search the debris for possible additional victims.
“It looks like it’s pretty much destroyed,” Day said of the building. “… It happens quick but apparently there was a little bit of time with tornado sirens going off.”
Some residents were found in the basement “and were prepared for this,” he said.
More than 100 tornado warnings were issued across the region and the National Weather Service is working to determine whether this was a single storm or a series of concurrent storms in the same area.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado hit an area in Stone County in the Missouri Ozarks region during Friday night’s storms.