Disasters & Accidents

At least 78 dead in weekend tornadoes

Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec 13 (EFE).- A total of 64 people are known to have died in Kentucky in four tornadoes late last week, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday, adding that this figure will probably rise in the hours and days ahead as rescue and recovery workers sift through the extensive fields of rubble left by the storms.

Fourteen people are known to have died in other states, bringing the death toll so far to 78.

Beshear on Monday morning held a press conference after a spokesman for the firm that owns the candle factory in Mayfield that was devastated by one of the tornadoes lowered the death toll at the scene to eight, along with several people who are still missing, figures that are substantially below the 70 potential fatalities that had been discussed earlier by local authorities.

The governor said that the death toll will rise, saying emotionally “Undoubtedly there will be more,” and adding that “As of this morning our best count for confirmed deaths – the most accurate count we have as of this morning are 64 Kentuckians. Remember this is fluid and the numbers will change and sometimes they have, thank God, gone down, other times they’ve gone up.”

Beshear went on to say that “thousands” of homes had been damaged or completely destroyed and it could be “weeks” before a final death toll can be prepared, not to mention an assessment of the material damage.

He said that 105 people have still not been located and that 18 bodies have not yet been identified.

Visibly emotional as he spoke, Beshear said that the dead ranged from five years old to 86 and that six of the dead were minors.

On Sunday, Bob Ferguson, the spokesman for Mayfield Consumer Products, the firm that owns the candle factory, said that the deaths of eight people at the facility had been confirmed out of the 110 employees who were at the factory at the moment it collapsed when the tornado struck.

He said that eight other people are still missing, and thus 94 workers have been located and are alive, although some apparently sustained relatively minor injuries, in contrast to Beshear’s original statement that said that only 40 people had survived at the factory, a remark that sparked considerable confusion among the public and in the media.

On Monday, the governor said that he felt confident that the current numbers released by the company were correct but that officials were working actively to confirm them.

The tornadoes that touched down on Friday night in Kentucky were part of a devastating series of storms that affected six US states, sparking more than 30 tornadoes that left at least 78 people dead throughout the region in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois.

Besides the 64 dead in Kentucky, at least six people died when an Amazon warehouse in Illinois partially collapsed, two more died in Arkansas, one of then a resident at a nursing home, while four people died in Tennessee and two in Missouri.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced Monday that he will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday to visit the scene of the tregedy and meet with relatives of the victims, and he promised to provide full federal support to the affected states.

He said at a White House meeting that the states would receive whatever they need when they need it, adding that what concerns him most is the “mental health” of the survivors and the “uncertainty” surrounding those who are looking for – or awaiting word of – their loved ones.

And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to Mayfield on Monday to learn firsthand about the rescue and recovery efforts, promising any and all necessary federal aid to the affected areas and saying that water, food and shelter are already being provided to the survivors.

EFE abm/afs/eat/bp

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