Search continues for more than 100 missing after US tornadoes
By Alvaro Blanco
Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec 14 (EFE).- Rescue and recovery workers searching for the more than 100 people missing in the wake of the tornadoes that devastated communities in several US states on Tuesday continued their work, hoping that the death toll would not rise above its current mark of 88.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, whose state was the hardest hit by the approximately 30 tornadoes that touched ground on Friday and swept along for miles, said Tuesday that in the last few hours the death toll Kentucky has remained constant at 74.
To the 74 known dead in Kentucky can be added four who died in Tennessee, two in Arkansas, six in Illinois and two in Missouri.
In Illinois, a large Amazon warehouse was destroyed by the twister that struck it.
Beshear said that Kentucky still has more than 100 people whose whereabouts are unknown after the storms and it is not known whether they are alive or dead.
The search and rescue/recovery efforts are being undertaken mainly by hundreds of National Guard soldiers deployed in the area.
Beshear said that eight of the 74 dead in Kentucky have not yet been identified and that 12 were minors.
With at least 88 dead in five states, the storm system that spawned more than 30 tornadoes on Friday night has become the deadliest such event since 2011, when 324 people lost their lives in a wave of more than 360 tornadoes that swept across Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina, among other states.
President Joe Biden late on Monday issued an emergency declaration for Illinois and Tennessee after having proclaimed a “major disaster” in Kentucky.
On Wednesday, Biden will travel to Kentucky to see firsthand the damage caused by the tornado that destroyed the towns of Mayfield and Dawson Springs, a town whose mayor, Chris Smiley, said that 75 percent of the structures in town has virtually disappeared.
In Mayfield, where it had been expected that the death toll would be significantly higher given that a candle factory with 110 workers inside collapsed during the storm, there was some positive news.
The spokesperson for the firm that owns the factory, Bob Ferguson, told The Washington Post that of the 110 people inside the factory when the twister struck, eight died and 102 survived, some with minor injuries.
Beshear, who on the weekend had said that he feared that there might be up to 70 bodies under the tons of debris at the candle factory, said that officials were “actively working” to confirm the firm’s report, which – if verified – would be a “Christmas miracle.”
Despite the figures provided by the company, Beshear on Tuesday asked the 102 workers who survived to get in direct contact with the authorities.
He said that authorities want to speak with “each and every one” of them.
As Mayfield awaits Biden’s arrival, local residents and rescue teams are continuing to sift through the rubble and debris after the huge tornado that destroyed hundreds of homes and caused significant damage to historic buildings, the police station, the fire station and the courthouse.
The magnitude of the damage has led AccuWeather to estimate that some of the 30 tornadoes on Friday could eventually be classified as F5 storms, the maximum on the Fujita Scale, meaning that they packed winds greater than 321 kilometers (199 miles) per hour.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is within the federal Department of Labor, has opened an investigation into the matter, said an agency spokesperson cited by media outlets.
OSHA inspectors will investigate whether all the safety regulations were followed, while the senior vice president for Amazon’s Global Delivery Services, John Felton, promised that the firm will review what happened at its warehouse in Illinois on Friday night, where six people were killed, but 43 others survived.