Crews Search for the Missing After Devastating Tornadoes

MAYFIELD, Ky. — Rescuers in an increasingly bleak search picked through the tornado-splintered ruins of homes and businesses Sunday, including a candle factory that was bustling with night-shift employees when it was flattened, as Kentucky’s governor warned the state’s death toll from the outbreak could top 100.

Factory workers sought shelter in the most secure part of the building. But it might not have been enough because Gov. Friday’s twister was so horrific, Gov. Andy Beshear stated. Although authorities reported on Saturday that they had saved 40 people from the burning building, the possibility of finding another person alive by Sunday was almost gone.
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“It’ll be a miracle if we pull anybody else out of that. It’s now 15 feet deep of steel and cars on top of where the roof was,” the governor said on CNN. “Just tough.’’

Jeremy Creason, Mayfield’s fire chief and emergency services director, said rescuers had to crawl over the dead to get to the living.

In the bizarre mid-December twister swarm, a nursing home and Amazon distribution centre were also smashed.

“I can tell you from reports that I’ve received I know we’ve lost more than 80 Kentuckians. That number is going to exceed more than 100,” Beshear said on the Sunday morning talk shows.

“I’ve got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean gone. My dad’s hometown – half of it isn’t standing. It’s difficult to express. I know people can see the visuals, but that goes on for 12 blocks or more in some of these places.”

He said that going door to door in search of victims is out of the question in the hard-hit areas: “There are no doors.”

Kentucky’s tornado caused widespread destruction and traveled more than 200 miles (320 km) through the state. 11 people died in the area of Bowling Green.

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.

This storm, which occurred in December when tornadoes are more common than usual, was even more impressive.

Six people died in Illinois from the outbreak. An Amazon facility was damaged in Edwardsville. Four others were killed in Tennessee. Two in Arkansas where a nursing home collapsed. And two more in Missouri.

Mayfield was a town of approximately 10,000 people in western Kentucky. It had a lot of debris, including shredded trees and buildings that were destroyed. The streets were lined with scraped sheet metal and cars that had been destroyed by power lines. The buildings left standing were destroyed by windows and roofing.

Janine Johnson Williams (50-year-old mother-of-four), was among those who were missing from the candle factory. Her family kept watch at the scene 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.”

Johnson Williams called her husband over night to inform him that the weather was becoming severe. That’s the last she heard from anyone.

Kyanna Parsons Perez, an employee in the factory was caught under debris about 5 feet (1.25 meters). Rescuers finally managed to rescue 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.

To move the rubble, rescue crews utilized heavy machinery and coroners were summoned to the scene.


A previous version of this article misspelled the last name the weather researcher. Genzini is the correct spelling.


Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri; Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C.; Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; Kimberlee Kruesi in Dresden, Tennessee; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.



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