Tornadoes Batter Kentucky, Illinois, With Dozens in Region Feared Dead


Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear

said the number of deaths in his state could exceed 70 after a series of tornadoes ripped across parts of at least five states overnight Friday and early Saturday morning.

Four tornadoes touched down in Kentucky, including one that slammed into a candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., a town of about 10,000 people in the state’s southwest corner.

In Illinois, at least two people were confirmed dead at an Amazon warehouse hit by a tornado in Edwardsville, Ill. Fatalities were also reported at a nursing home facility in Arkansas.

Rescue operations were under way across Kentucky, and the largest death toll was expected to be at the candle factory, where more than 100 people were reported to be working overnight, Mr. Beshear said. Rescuers at the factory last found someone alive in the rubble about 3 a.m. local time, Mr. Beshear said Saturday morning.

The governor declared a state of emergency overnight and has deployed the National Guard to help with search and rescue efforts.

President Biden said Saturday the string of deadly storms across Kentucky and a group of central states was “likely one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.”

The president, addressing the nation from his hometown of Wilmington, Del., said he had spoken with Mr. Beshear and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) about the storms and had approved an emergency declaration in the state.

“We are going to get through this, we are going to get through this together and the federal government is not going to walk away,” Mr. Biden said.

The White House said the president has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies to respond to the disaster.

Parts of downtown Mayfield, Ky., were destroyed by the tornado.



Photo:

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The damage in Kentucky was extensive, with at least one town likely “decimated,” the governor said Saturday morning. “We lost people in multiple locations,” he said, calling it “something we have never seen before in Kentucky.”

The National Weather Service issued several tornado watches and warnings overnight for parts of the Midwest, including Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas advised residents to stay on alert, as severe weather remains a threat in the southeast U.S.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez was working at the candle factory Friday night in Mayfield, Ky., when she and other workers were evacuated to a safety area. After the building collapsed, Ms. Parsons-Perez began a

Facebook

live stream and detailed what was happening as rescuers tried to free her and other trapped workers.

Residents of Bowling Green, Ky., surveyed the damage from the overnight storms on Saturday.



Photo:

gunnar word/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“This is the only thing keeping me calm, so I’m going to keep going. I hope you all are watching,” she said at the beginning of the 10-minute video.

In the video, Ms. Parsons-Perez could be heard trying to calm her co-workers, at one point reassuring everyone nearby that they would be fine, because her 40th birthday is Saturday and she planned to celebrate once they were rescued.

“We’re going to be OK, baby. I promise,” she told one co-worker.

Ms. Parsons-Perez described being trapped in debris in the demolished candle factory.

“We got hit by a tornado and I’m trapped. I’m staying calm, but…I’m not OK,” she said. “I was at work and we got hit by a tornado. We are trapped.”

She asked someone to call and check on her children at their home in Paducah, Ky., about 30 miles north. “Don’t tell them I’m trapped though. Don’t tell them what’s going on. None of my kids have Facebook. I don’t want them to worry about me.”

Ms. Parsons-Perez later said in television interviews that rescuers ultimately freed her from about 5 feet of rubble.

In Illinois, Edwardsville Police Chief Michael Fillback said early Saturday morning that at least two fatalities had been confirmed at the Amazon fulfillment center in town, about 25 miles east of St. Louis. He said the building suffered major structural damage and that more than two dozen people were bused out of the area.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the damage was caused by straight-line storms or a tornado, but the National Weather Service office near St. Louis reported “radar-confirmed tornadoes” in the Edwardsville area around the time of the collapse.

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.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the terrible situation in Edwardsville, and are heartbroken over the loss of our team members,” tweeted Amazon Chief Executive

Andy Jassy

on Saturday. “As this situation continues to evolve, I want our Edwardsville community to know we are working closely with local officials & first responders to support them.”

Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com

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