Kentucky District Judge Brian Crick, a married father of three, was among those killed in the storm
A judge and a three-year-old boy are among the scores of victims in a historic tornado strike in Kentucky that has left communities reeling with its devastating impact.
The confirmed death toll in Kentucky alone is now higher than any tornado in the state’s history at 80, with the multi-state toll standing at 94 and expected to rise as recovery efforts continue.
The twisters that spread death and destruction across six states on Friday night were powerful enough to send a family photo flying 150 miles and derail a freight train in western Kentucky, which bore the brunt of the horrific storm.
As the sun rose on Sunday morning, survivors picked through the rubble to salvage anything they could in near-freezing temperatures, still shell-shocked at the scope of death and devastation and many without electricity or running water.
Kentucky District Judge Brian Crick, a married father of three who served McLean and Muhlenberg counties, was among those killed in the storm, the commonwealth’s Supreme Court chief justice confirmed.
Mayfield resident Angela Wheeler told WLWT-TV how she and her husband escaped through a window as their home came off its foundation, only to find their neighbors screaming for help after their three-year-old son was killed.
More than 80 people are confirmed dead in Kentucky alone, many of them workers at a candle factory in Mayfield, Governor Andy Beshear said Sunday morning as he raised the confirmed toll by 10 fatalities.
It shatters the prior record for the deadliest tornado in Kentucky history, set in 1890 when a twister killed 76 in the Louisville area, according to National Weather Service records.
‘[The death toll] is going to exceed more than 100. This is the deadliest tornado event we’ve ever had,’ Beshear told CNN, adding that in the town Dawson Springs alone, the list of the missing is eight pages long, single-spaced.
‘I’ve got towns that are gone – that are just, I mean, gone,’ he said. ‘You go door-to-door to check on people and see if they’re okay. There are no doors. The question is, is there somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures. I mean, it’s devastating.’
People embrace on Sunday as tornado damage is seen in Mayfield, Kentucky after extreme storms struck, leaving more than 80 people dead Saturday in
Search are rescue crews work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Sunday morning. Rescuers describe crawling over the bodies of the dead to reach survivors, and only 40 out of 110 workers have been recovered alive
In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds derailed a freight train, tossing the heavy cars like a child’s playthings
Dena Ausdorn stands at the remains of her home after a tornado leveled the town of Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Ausdorn has lived there for 28 years and lost two of her dogs with another left paralyzed after the tornado
As the sun rose on Sunday morning, survivors in Mayfield picked through the rubble to salvage anything they could
Early morning frost covers a chair sitting in a destroyed home early on Sunday. Survivors battered by the storm huddled without electricity in near-freezing temperatures overnight on Saturday
A tank sits in a heavily damaged neighborhood outside a destroyed American Legion Post in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, covered in frost at dawn on Sunday after tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states
Irene Noltner consoles Jody O’Neill on Saturday outside The Lighthouse, a women and children’s shelter that was destroyed by a tornado along with much of the downtown of Mayfield, Kentucky
The Mayfield courthouse is seen before and after the powerful storm, which ripped off the clock tower and second floor
One twister carved a track that could rival the longest on record, as the stormfront smashed apart a candle factory in Kentucky, crushed a nursing home in Arkansas and flattened an Amazon distribution center in Illinois.
Crews search rubble at Amazon hub in Illinois where six died
Search efforts at an Amazon facility in Illinois where at least six people were killed in a tornado were expected to take several days, but authorities said they did not expect to find additional survivors.
The company has not said how many people were in the building not far from St. Louis when the tornado hit at 8.35pm Friday.
Authorities said they didn’t have a full count of employees because it was during a shift change and there were several part-time employees.
Both sides of the warehouse used to prepare orders for delivery collapsed inward and the roof caved, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a Saturday news conference.
Beshear said that one tornado was on the ground for 227 miles, 200 of which were in Kentucky, which would break the prior global tornado-track record of 219 miles.
The death toll across five states also includes six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.
Kentucky residents, many without power, water or even a roof over their heads, worked on Sunday to salvage what they could in towns that had been all but destroyed.
Timothy McDill, 48, a refrigeration repair technician, slept Saturday night without water or power in his house in Mayfield, which his parents bought in 1992.
A telephone pole had come through a window and the brick exterior was ripped off, leaving entire rooms exposed.
The night of the storm, he tied himself, his wife, his two grandkids, 14 and 12, their two Chihuahuas and a cat to a drainpipe in their basement using a flagpole rope and waited for it to be over.
‘They were troopers. They didn’t cry that much,’ McDill said of the children. ‘Me and my missus were doing all the crying. We were scared we were going to lose the kids and they don’t think of that.’
Steve Wright, 61, was driving around looking for gas on Sunday morning, nervous because he was running low. A resident of Mayfield for the last four years, his apartment complex was largely spared.
After the storm had passed, he took a flashlight and started walking around town looking for people who might be trapped. He ended up helping a father pull his dead 3-year-old from the rubble.
‘It was bad. I helped dig out a dead baby, right up here,’ he said gesturing to debris that used to be a two-story house. ‘I prayed for both of them, that was all I could do.’
Mayfield resident Jamel Alubahr, 25, said his three-year-old nephew died and his sister was in the hospital with a skull fracture after being stuck under the rubble of their home.
‘It all happened in the snap of a finger,’ said Alubahr, who is now staying with another sister in Mayfield.
Timothy McDill, 48, tears up on Sunday as he recounts the story of surviving the tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky
McDill, who continues to spend the night inside his home to protect it from looters, stands in his living room while looking out over the damage and debris on Sunday morning
The night of the storm, McDill (above) tied himself, his wife, his two grandkids, 14 and 12, their two Chihuahuas and a cat to a drainpipe in their basement using a flagpole rope and waited for it to be over
A telephone pole came through a window of the home and the brick exterior was ripped off, leaving entire rooms exposed
Tornado damage is seen Sunday in Mayfield after extreme weather hit the region on Friday night. Dozens of devastating tornadoes roared through five US states overnight, leaving more than 80 people dead
Bogdan Gaicki surveys tornado damage Sunday in Mayfield, Kentucky after extreme weather hit the region, leaving more than 80 people dead in the deadliest storm in Kentucky history
Kentucky residents, many without power, water or even a roof over their heads, worked on Sunday to salvage what they could in towns that had been all but destroyed
People walk amongst damage caused by tornados in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday as survivors picked through the wreckage
Putin’s offers ‘sincere condolences’ to Biden
Putin on Sunday offered ‘sincere condolences’ to his US counterpart Joe Biden following the deadly tornadoes
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday offered ‘sincere condolences’ to his US counterpart Joe Biden in the wake of devastating tornadoes that ripped through six US states and left scores dead.
‘Russia shares in the grief of those who lost loved ones as a result of this disaster. We hope the victims will recover and that the consequences of this disaster will be overcome quickly,’ Putin told Biden in a telegram, according to the Kremlin.
It comes as tensions escalate between Moscow and the West, with the Group of Seven warning Russia on Sunday to ‘de-escalate’ its military buildup near the Ukrainian border and saying an invasion would carry ‘massive consequences’.
In a telegram on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered ‘sincere condolences’ to his US counterpart Joe Biden, despite rising tensions over the Russian military buildup at the Ukrainian border.
The historic nature of the storm has led some to blame climate change, including Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
‘The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation,’ Criswell told CNN on Sunday morning. ‘This is going to be our new normal.’
Warm weather driven by a La Nina pattern was a crucial ingredient in this tornado outbreak, but whether climate change is a factor is not quite as clear, meteorologists say.
At a candle factory in Mayfield, 110 people were working overnight Friday when the storm hit, but only 40 of them were rescued alive.
‘We had to, at times, crawl over casualties to get to live victims,’ said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and EMS director.
Now, the hopes of finding survivors are fading fast.
‘I pray for it,’ Beshear told CNN on Sunday. ‘It would be an incredible miracle.’ But, he acknowledged, no survivor had been found since a few hours after the storm ripped through.
Since late Friday, rescue workers have been desperately searching through the tangle of debris that is all that remains of the factory, where fallen girders and twisted sheet metal are piled high.
They have been seen removing corpses, while advancing gingerly through the wreckage with heavy equipment. Specially trained dogs sniff the debris to find anyone — dead or alive — still buried.
Factory owner Mayfield Consumer Products was a major employer in the town of 10,000. A family-owned business founded in 1998, it had recently been hiring — a rarity in an America where small manufacturers more often lose out to international competitors.
‘Our Mayfield, Kentucky facility was destroyed December 10, 2021, by a tornado, and tragically employees were killed and injured,’ CEO Troy Propes said in a message on the company website.
‘Our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished.’
The factory also employed trusted inmates from a local prison and had been operating in shifts around the clock to meet high demand in the busy Christmas season.
In this aerial photo, a collapsed candle factory is seen with workers searching for survivors Sunday in Mayfield, Kentucky
A general view of damage and debris in Mayfield, Kentucky after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through
A general view of a hallway inside a nursing home in Mayfield, Kentucky is seen Sunday after a tornado strike
Destroyed homes and debris are seen in a heavily damaged neighborhood at dawn in Dawson Springs, Kentucky
The remains of Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church after a tornado in Dawson Springs on Sunday. A monstrous tornado, carving a track that could rival the longest on record, ripped across the middle of the U.S. on Friday
Decimated homes are seen in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday following the deadliest tornado in Kentucky’s history
Western Kentucky University, which previously said that a student had been killed, amended their statement to confirm that a close relative of a graduating senior had died.
The school’s graduation ceremony, set for Saturday, has been cancelled and the school still has no electricity amid widespread power outages.
Elsewhere, at least six people were killed in the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital, fire Chief James Whiteford said.
Investigators searched the rubble throughout the day for additional victims and 45 people survived, Whiteford said. Authorities were uncertain Saturday evening whether anyone was still unaccounted because workers were in the midst of a shift change when it was struck by the tornado about 8:30 p.m. Friday.
‘This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners,’ Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds derailed a freight train, sending one car flying 75 yards from the tracks.
In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds derailed a freight train, sending one car flying 75 yards from the tracks
People work at the scene of a train derailment in Earlington after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes
Workers say it will take some time to clear the tracks after the powerful winds ripped a freight train off the tracks
Photos show that two cars separated entirely from the train near Highway 41, with much of the rest of the train tipped on its side.
‘They say it sounds like a train. It’s a lot worse than a train,’ Jesse Johnson, who was at the center of the tornado in Earlington, told WFIE-TV.
In one astonishing example of the twister’s fearsome whim, an old family photo was carried more than 150 miles before it was recovered intact and reunited with its owner.
Katie Posten, of New Albany, Indiana, wrote on Facebook that she was walking out to her car when she discovered the photo from the 1940s stuck to her windshield.
‘The tornado that ripped through Kentucky last night seems to have dissipated just a bit southwest of us, and it’s said to have carried debris up into the sky up to seven miles or more, so no doubt that it came from a home in the path of destruction,’ Posten wrote in a public appeal searching for the photo’s owner.
Incredibly, thanks to the inscription on the back, Posten was able to reunite the photo with the Swatzell family in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
Katie Posten, of New Albany, Indiana, found a family photo on her windshield and was able to locate the Kentucky family it belonged to, 150 miles away, through a public appeal on Facebook
In this aerial view, homes and businesses are destroyed on Saturday after a tornado ripped through town the previous evening in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states
People retrieve merchandise from a Mayfield store after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes
Satellite images show shows homes and buildings in Mayfield before and after a devastating twister
It was a rare moment of hope amid countless tales of tragedy, particularly in Mayfield, where entire blocks were flattened, houses and buildings ripped apart, leaving twisted metal, shattered tree limbs and bricks scattered across streets.
That included the city’s courthouse, whose clock tower was completely torn off by the tornadoes. The historic landmark dates to the 19th century.
Janet Kimp, 66, and her son Michael Kimp, 25, survived by hunkering down in their hallway – the only part of the house where the roof or the walls did not come crashing down, she said on Saturday.
This was but the latest disaster to afflict her: Kimp said her house burned down years ago, and then she had to file for bankruptcy following her husband’s death.
‘I’ve lost it all again,’ Kimp said as she stood in the remnants of her living room, where furniture was overturned and debris littered the ground. She stayed the night at her daughter’s house in Mayfield, which was spared.
Down the road, war veteran Robert Bowlin, 59, and his son Christopher Bowlin, 24, were hard-boiling eggs on a campfire outside their home. They used wood from a tree that had collapsed, narrowly avoiding their house.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a briefing midday on Saturday the death toll was now ‘north of 70’ and that ‘it may in fact end up exceeding 100 before the day is done.’
‘This will be, I believe, the deadliest tornado system to ever run through Kentucky,’ he added. ‘It is indescribable. The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.’
A general view of damage and debris after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states, in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday
Emmanuel Baptist Church is seen in the aftermath of the tornadoes on Friday in Mayfield, Kentucky on Saturday morning
A resident of the The Cardinal Inn in Bowling Green, Kentucky, looks at the damages done after a tornado touched down
At least two were dead and many people were trapped after a roof partially collapsed at this Amazon warehouse after a tornado passed through Edwardsville, Illinois
If early reports are confirmed, the twister ‘will likely go down perhaps as one of the longest track violent tornadoes in United States history,’ said Victor Gensini, a researcher on extreme weather at Northern Illinois University.
The longest tornado on record, in March 1925, tracked for about 220 miles through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But Gensini said this twister may have touched down for nearly 250 miles. The storm was all the more remarkable because it came in December, when normally colder weather limits tornadoes, he said.
Debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground in Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in western Kentucky. Twisted metal sheeting, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings that were still standing.
The missing at the candle factory included Janine Denise Johnson Williams, a 50-year-old mother of four whose family members kept vigil at the site Saturday.
‘It´s Christmastime and she works at a place that´s making candles for gifts,’ her brother, Darryl Williams, said. ‘To give up the gift of life to make a gift. We haven´t heard anything, and I´m not presuming anything. But I´m expecting for the worst.’
He said Johnson Williams called her husband overnight to report the weather was getting bad, the last time anyone heard from her.
Search and rescue crews work through the night at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory early Sunday in Mayfield
Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield on Saturday. Only 40 out of the 110 workers in the factory have been rescued alive
Emergency workers transport a tornado victim in a body bag at the Mayfield Consumer Products Candle Factory on Saturday
Kyanna Parsons-Perez, an employee at the factory, was trapped under 5 feet of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.
In an interview with NBC’s ‘Today,’ she said it was ‘absolutely the most terrifying’ event she had ever experienced. ‘I did not think I was going to make it at all.’
Just before the tornado struck, the building´s lights flickered. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started popping and then, ‘Boom. Everything came down on us.’ People started screaming, and she heard other workers praying.
Kentucky State Trooper Sarah Burgess said rescue crews were using heavy equipment to move rubble at the candle factory. Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she didn´t know how many.
Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield´s main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado, Creason said.
After a wall at a nursing home in Mayfield collapsed, Vernon Evans said he rushed to help firefighters pull people out, only to find one resident lying dead in a few inches of water.
‘All I could do is sit there and hold their head up,’ he said. ‘I never experienced nothing like this.’
President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for Kentucky on Saturday and pledged to support the affected states.
‘I promise you, whatever is needed – whatever is needed – the federal government is going to find a way to provide it,’ Biden said.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has established a tornado relief fund to directly assist those impacted by the storm system, donations can be made at: TeamWKYReliefFund.ky.gov