Illinois tornado: OSHA investigating Amazon warehouse collapse

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — At least six people were killed after an Amazon distribution center in suburban St. Louis partially collapsed as severe weather rolled through the area, authorities said Saturday.

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At a news conference, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said search efforts shifted Saturday afternoon from rescue to recovery mode.

Update 1:20 p.m. EST Dec. 12: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the Amazon warehouse collapse, CNN reported.

Scott Allen from the U.S. Department of Labor told CNN, “I can confirm that OSHA has opened an investigation into the building collapse at the Amazon Warehouse in Edwardsville IL due to a tornado. OSHA has had compliance officers at the complex since Saturday, December 11 to provide assistance.”

The department has a six-month deadline to complete its investigation and issue citations fines if there are health and safety issues found, CNN reported.

Update 10:46 p.m. EST Dec. 12: It is believed that everyone has been accounted for, according to Edwardsville Police Chief Mike Fillback. There have been no more reports of anyone missing, KMOV reported.

Update 1:14 p.m. EST Dec. 12: The Madison County coroner identified the people who were killed when an EF-3 tornado struck an Amazon distribution center near St. Louis.

The victims are Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois; and Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Illinois.

Update 9:40 p.m. EST Dec. 11: In a series of Twitter posts, Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos called news of Friday’s deadly tornado “tragic.”

“We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones,” he wrote.

“All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis. We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site.”

Update 6:35 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Officials said an EF-3 tornado struck an Amazon distribution center Friday night, killing at least six people and leaving an unknown number missing.

“At this point, we have transitioned to search and recovery,” Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a news conference Saturday. “We don’t expect that anyone could be surviving at this point.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said a tornado struck six counties on Friday: Madison, Cass, Moultrie, Shelby, Coles and Fayette.

Update 6:24 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Authorities confirmed Saturday that six people have died after a tornado struck an Amazon distribution center, causing 150 yards of the building to collapse.

Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a news conference Saturday evening that 45 people made it out of the building safely, including one person who had to be airlifted to a regional hospital for treatment. He said six people died.

“We’re continuing to search the site for evidence of life and will continue recovering operations until all personnel are accounted for,” Whiteford said. “At this time, estimates are the recovery portion of the incident will take about three more days.”

Update 5:55 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Carla Cope told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch her son, Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, a maintenance worker at Amazon, had died. Carla Cope said was on the phone with Clayton Cope before the building was hit and urged him to find shelter, the newspaper reported.

Carla Cope said she left her home and arrived at Edwardsville to wait for news. She told the Post-Dispatch that she learned of her son’s death at about 4:30 a.m. CST on Saturday.

Authorities have yet to officially name the people who died.

Original report: About 30 Amazon workers were transported by bus to the Pontoon Beach Police Department after being rescued from the building, according to KMOV-TV.

Tornadoes and severe weather caused major damage in at least five states late Friday, including at a candle factory in Kentucky and a nursing home in Arkansas.

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A roof and a piece of a wall the length of a football field at the Amazon warehouse near Edwardsville collapsed when the storm came through the area, KSDK-TV reported.

Fillback told reporters that authorities are still working to confirm how many people were inside the facility when it was damaged, the Post-Dispatch reported. The chief estimated that 50 people were working when the collapse occurred at about 8:33 p.m. CST.

“It’s still an active scene,” Fillback said.

Two people were taken by helicopter to hospitals in St. Louis for treatment, Fillback told reporters.

Aisha White told KMOV she was speaking by telephone with a family member who was inside the building at the time of the collapse.

“He was on the phone with me while it was happening,” White told the television station. “The tornado was hitting the back of the building, the trucks were coming in, I told him to jump out the truck and duck. We watched the building go up, stuff hitting the cars, I told him I was on my way.”

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted that he was aware of the situation.

“My prayers are with the people of Edwardsville tonight, and I’ve reached out to the mayor to provide any needed state resources,” the governor tweeted.

Pritzker later activated the State Emergency Operations Center, KMOV reported.

Amazon driver Thomas Dewalt said he arrived at the warehouse five minutes after the storm hit, KSDK reported.

“The building was already torn apart,” Dewalt told the television station. “The front corner of the building was still intact but the back corner of the building to the right side was caved in.”

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, the Amazon facility in Edwardsville opened with two warehouses in 2016, with 1.5 million square feet of space.

“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement Friday night. “We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.”