Storms unleashed devastating tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday across parts of the central and southern United States, collapsing buildings into twisted debris and claiming lives, with officials fearing the death toll could exceed 80.
In Kentucky alone, the state’s governor says more than 70 people could have died after “one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history.”
Among the most significant damage: Tornadoes or strong winds collapsed an occupied candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon warehouse in western Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas, killing people in each community and leaving responders scrambling to rescue others.
More than 30 tornadoes have been reported in at least six states, including Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi. A stretch of more than 250 miles from Arkansas to Kentucky might have been hit by one violent, long-track twister, CNN meteorologists say.
“I’m pretty sure that number (killed in Kentucky) is north of 70 … it may, in fact exceed 100 before the day is done,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said late Saturday morning. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
One of the most devastated sites is the southwestern Kentucky city of Mayfield, where a tornado hit the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Friday night while people were working. About 110 people were inside and dozens are feared dead there, Beshear said.
“They rescued 40,” Beshear said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there, it will be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it.”
The governor said he also visited Dawson Springs, his father’s hometown, with a population of about 2,700 where he says, “they’re going to lose a whole lot of people.”
“One block from my grandparent’s house, there’s no house standing and we don’t know where all those people are,” Beshear said.
Video from Mayfield showed what remained of the factory there: a massive debris field, largely of twisted metal, several feet high, with rescuers using hands and machines to dig through.
Among the survivors were Kyanna Parsons-Perez, who said workers had been hustled to a safety area before the storm hit. While attendance was being taken, she saw “a little dust of wind.”
“My ears start popping. And it was like the building, we all just rocked back and forth, and then boom — everything fell on us,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez told CNN’s Boris Sanchez.
Pinned by debris with others, she used her phone to broadcast on Facebook Live, and called 911, her mother and a coworker’s relative. She knew rescuers were around only when she could feel pressure from above — people walking on the debris.
“I was screaming like, ‘Sir, can you please just get this so I can move my leg?’ He said, ‘Ma’am, there’s about 5 feet worth of debris on top of you,'” she said.