At least 50 people are thought to have been killed in Kentucky after tornadoes ripped across the South and Midwest of the US on Friday.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear estimated the toll would ‘exceed 50’ but could reach 100 after ‘some of the worst tornado damage’ the state has experienced ‘in a long time’.
‘It’s been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky’s history,’ Beshear told a news conference early on Saturday. ‘I fear that there are more than 50 dead in Kentucky… probably closer to somewhere between 70 and 100, it’s devastating.’
A spokeswoman for the state’s emergency management service said that rescue officials had not confirmed figures for deaths or injuries as of early Saturday.
Beshear added the town of Mayfield had been devastated and said the damage was ‘some of the worst we’ve seen in a long time.’
At least one person was killed and five were injured when a tornado shredded the roof of a nursing home in Monette in northern Arkansas and another person killed in Missouri.
A further three people were killed in the severe weather in Tennessee, Dean Flener, spokesman for the state’s Emergency Management Agency said.
Elsewhere, in Illinois, authorities said many people were trapped after a roof partially collapsed at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse near St. Louis late on Friday, after tornadoes and strong storms blew through the area.
Mayfield, Kentucky, was the scene of devastation on Friday night after a tornado smashed through the centre, ripping the tower off the Victorian courthouse
Large trees were uprooted and a dark shadow hung over the skies of Mayfield, Kentucky on Friday night
The town of Mayfield, Kentucky (pictured) was devastated and people caught in the wreckage of a candle factory begged to be freed from the rubble
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear estimated the toll would ‘exceed 50’ but could reach 100 after ‘some of the worst tornado damage’ the state has experienced ‘in a long time’
Speaking at a press conference early Saturday morning, Beshear said: ‘As of 4:45am [CST] 56,854 Kentuckians are without power. I have been personally over at the emergency operations centre since about 1am overseeing our response and hearing and absorbing the difficult news in real time.’
He said: ‘Before midnight, I declared a state of emergency. I’ve activated the national guard. We are deploying 181 guardsmen including search and extraction and debris clearing folks.’
He said search and rescue officials had been working through the night to pull people from the rubble.
At least 100 emergency vehicles descended upon the Amazon warehouse near Edwardsville, Illinois, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of St. Louis, where a wall that was about the length of a football field collapsed, as did the roof above it.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were hurt, but one person was flown by helicopter to a hospital.
Edwardsville Police Chief Mike Fillback said several people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation. By early Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble to determine if anyone was trapped inside. Fillback said the process would last for several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.
‘Please be patient with us. Our fire personnel are doing everything they can to reunite everyone with their loved ones,’ Fillback said on KMOV-TV.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
The huge tornado is seen as a black shadow in the sky, as emergency crews respond to the warehouse in Edwardsville
‘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.
Melissa Moon, a reporter with WREG3, tweeted a photo of the severely damaged Monette Manor nursing home, with what appeared to be a mangled bed in the parking lot.
The exact speed of the tornadoes were not yet known on Friday night, and it was unclear how many there had been. CNN reported that there were 19 tornadoes that hammered the five state.
Some reports suggested that the record for the longest single tornado – 219 miles – could have been broken, and that it had crossed four states, breaking another record.
Observers speculated that many of tornadoes were at four or even five on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale.
Wind speeds of between 136 and 165mph are found in EF4 tornados, and of 200mpg in EF5 tornados.
‘This tornado is so powerful it literally broke Radarscope velocity,’ tweeted @WxAtlantic.
‘The delta velocity is so high that the couplet just folded over on itself.’
Almost 300 miles to the north of Monette, Southern Illinois Fire Incidents confirmed a ‘mass casualty incident’ at the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville and said more than 20 units of emergency responders were attending the scene.
‘About a third of the warehouse is torn down and damaged from either straight by line winds or tornado,’ tweeted Jenna Rae, with Illinois’s KMOV station.
One woman said she was speaking to a family member inside the warehouse as the storm hit.
‘He was on the phone with me while it was happening,’ Aisha White told KMOV.
‘The tornado was hitting the back of the building, the trucks were coming in, I told him to jump out the truck and duck.
‘We watched the building go up, stuff hitting the cars, I told him I was on my way.’
J.B. Pritzker, governor of Illinois, tweeted: ‘My prayers are with the people of Edwardsville tonight, and I’ve reached out to the mayor to provide any needed state resources.’
Richard Rocha, an Amazon spokesman, said: ‘The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now.
‘We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.’
And in Kentucky, the town of Mayfield – home to 10,000 people – was hard-hit.
Buildings were left without their roofs; large trees were uprooted; glass in store fronts was shattered, and debris scattered on the ground.
The courthouse, built in 1888, was devastated, with the tower sheared off the building and the roof lifted off.
The wall of a candle factory collapsed, trapping people inside and leaving them begging for help.
‘We got hit by a hurricane – I’m at work in Mayfield, and we are trapped,’ said Kyanna Lou, broadcasting a Facebook Live from the dark, with a woman sobbing behind her and muffled shouts and moans.
‘Please, y’all. Get us some help. We’re at the candle factory in Mayfield.
‘Please, send us some help. The wall is stuck on me. Nobody can get to us, y’all please. Pray for us.’
She added: ‘We were all in the safe shelter place, the whole building fell. We are stuck.’
Emergency crews were on the scene in Monette, Arkansas, where two people died in a nursing home collapse
The Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, was pictured on Friday night with its roof ripped off after a tornado swept through the area
Lightning bolts can be seen in the distance as the emergency workers tried to free those trapped inside the Amazon warehouse
Storefronts in Mayfield, KY, were ripped open and their contents flung onto the sidewalk
Callie Lemle, the wife of the president of Graves County Economic Development, Jason Lemle, told WPSD on Friday night that he was at the candle factory, Mayfield Consumer Products.
She said people were digging through the rubble trying to get people out, listening to the cries of those trapped.
She said her husband told her they need more volunteers, and anyone with gloves, headlamps, and equipment for digging was welcome to help.
Mayfield had the grim distinction of being hit by among the most intense storms on record, with debris thrown 30,000 feet into the air, according to storm trackers.
Around Mayfield there was ‘absolute devastation’, said Brett Adair of Live Storms Media.
Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist and researcher at Mississippi State university, described the Mayfield storm as ‘among the most intense ever recorded’.
He said it was ‘an extremely violent tornado’.
‘Communities being hit hard. And we won’t know how bad it is until morning. We have to think and pray for those being affected,’ he tweeted.
And across the region, tornadoes on Friday night were barreling through parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky – with one becoming what a storm chaser said was the first quad-state tornado in U.S. history.
A tornado watch was in place until 2am CST.
Photographs posted on social media in Arkansas showed tornadoes touching down on Friday night
Footage on social media from across the region showed huge swirling towers of storm clouds sweeping across the plains.
Storm chasers photographed the tornado near Caruthersville in Missouri, along the I-55.
Video showed multiple semis thrown onto their sides, twisted in the road.
Chris Jackson, a professional storm chaser, said that he had seen tractor trailers in Steele, Missouri, lifted off the ground and flung into the air.
‘A second tractor trailer was picked up and thrown on I-55 near exit 17,’ he tweeted.
‘Just spoke to the driver. Has some minor cuts but is ok.’
Jackson said that emergency responders were flocking to the area, with their lights flashing as they raced to help people.
He said the power was down along the I-69 between Troy and Mayfield, Kentucky.
Mayfield, founded in the early 19th Century, saw its main street battered by the storm.
Many of the Victorian buildings were severely damaged, including the courthouse, built in 1888 – the fourth such building on the site.
The courthouse was renovated in 1990.
Mayfield’s residents, 35 per cent of whom are classed as living in poverty, according to the census, work mainly in manufacturing and food processing, the Graves County economic development board says.
The governor of Kentucky declared a state of emergency on Friday evening.
Andy Beshear activated the Kentucky Guard and Kentucky State Police to respond to the destruction in western Kentucky.
So far, no fatalities have been confirmed but officers said ‘loss of life is expected,’ according to WLWT.
Multiple agencies are responding and assisting Kentucky State Police.
The governor said he will providing an update with Kentucky Division of Emergency Management officials at 5am Saturday.
‘We are praying for our Western Kentucky families,’ Beshear said in a tweet.