Kentucky tornadoes: All occupants at candle factory accounted for, official says

MAYFIELD, Ky. — Dozens of people are feared dead after several tornadoes roared through western Kentucky late Friday night, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

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One twister struck the city of Mayfield and smashed into a candle manufacturing factory that was operating when the storm hit, WLKY-TV and CNN reported. There were 110 people in the building when it collapsed due to the storm, according to the television station. Officials in Warren County told WNKY that children were among at least 12 people killed in Warren County.

Update 8:35 p.m. EST Dec. 13: The owners of Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, which was destroyed by Friday’s tornado, said every occupant in the building during the storm has been accounted for, Louisville Emergency Management Director E.J. Meiman said.

“We have a high level of confidence that there is no one left in this building,” Meiman said during a Monday evening news conference.

Meiman told reporters that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s earlier announcement that eight people died at the candle factory had not changed.

Update 8:30 p.m. EST Dec. 13: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said $5,000 in burial expenses will be given to each family who lost a loved one, WLKY reported.

The funds will come from the Team Western Kentucky Relief Fund, which has been set up to help victims of the storms.

Update 4:19 p.m. EST Dec. 13: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference that the death toll from the tornadoes that tore through the state now stands at 74, with 109 people still unaccounted for.

The governor said the numbers were coming from emergency management officials.

“We expect this death toll to continue to grow,” Beshear said.

Update 12:55 p.m. EST Dec. 12: President Joe Biden will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday to survey the damage, The New York Times reported.

He will have a briefing at Ft. Campbell before he travels to Mayfield and Dawson Springs.

Sunday, Biden approved the disaster declaration for the state, making federal funding available to those in the affected areas.

Update 10:02 a.m. EST Dec. 12: Gov. Andy Beshear said that Kentucky had at least four tornadoes hit his state, with one on the ground for at least 200 miles.

He announced during a Monday morning news conference the adjusted death toll of 64 dead with the number “likely to grow.”

The ages of victims ranged from 5 months old to 86 years old, Beshear said. Each of the victims’ families will get $5,000 for burial expenses, the governor said.

The county-by-county breakdown includes:

  • 20 in Graves County
  • 13 in Hopkins County
  • 11 in Muhlenberg County
  • 12 in Warren County
  • 4 in Caldwell County
  • 1 each in Marshall, Taylor, Fulton, Lyon counties

At least 105 people are still unaccounted for, days after the storms.

The candle factory had 110 total employees at the time of the storm. Beshear said 94 are alive and accounted for, eight were confirmed dead and 8 are missing, however, the company says six are missing.

State parks have been opened for housing and will be open for at least two weeks, Beshear said.

Update 8:09 a.m. EST Dec. 12: The number of missing at candle factory Mayfield Consumer Products has been updated with officials saying six people remain missing. The death toll remains at eight, The New York Times reported. Originally 70 people were believed to be missing.

Update 7:05 p.m. EST Dec.12: Eight people at Mayfield Consumer Products have been confirmed dead and another eight are missing, but more than 90 employees at the candle company plant have been accounted for, The Associated Press reported.

“Many of the employees were gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over they left the plant and went to their homes,” company spokesman Bob Ferguson said, according to the AP. “With the power out and no landline, they were hard to reach initially. We’re hoping to find more of those eight unaccounted as we try their home residences.

Update 4:19 p.m. EST Dec. 12: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear made a point to mention during an afternoon news conference that within 40 hours after multiple tornadoes blew through the state leaving a path of destruction that it was granted a federal state of emergency status. A long-term disaster declaration is expected to be approved soon and victims will be able to access the help available shortly.

The heads of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency have been on site. FEMA’s Administrator announced that the department’s housing expert will be on-site this week to start offering assistance on getting living arrangements for those impacted.

Administrator Deanne Criswell is on the ground in Kentucky to provide full support to state and local officials in...

Posted by FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sunday, December 12, 2021

He added that some morgues “aren’t big enough” for the number of victims and that some towns that were in the path of the storm are gone.

About 300 members of the National Guard are digging through the rubble. Workers are also starting to remove debris, but the destruction is at levels “never seen before.”

Team Western Kentucky Relief Fund has been started and is accepting donations.

Mayor Kathy O’Nan said her town of Mayfield, Kentucky, looks like “matchsticks” after the tornadoes.

Beshear said crews haven’t made another “live rescue” at the candle factory since 3:30 p.m. Saturday, but he is hoping that survivors will be found. He added that there are “thousands” of homes that are gone. “When this tornado hit, it didn’t take a roof ... it exploded the whole house,” he said.

Beshear said that there is not a firm number of injuries and that four counties will have death counts in the double digits as cadaver dogs search for dead. He estimates that 50 people were killed, but expects that number to grow.

Update 3:42 p.m. EST Dec. 12: Reports from state and local officials determined that the severity of the storms that battered Kentucky on Friday were among the worst in state history, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Several counties experienced winds that exceeded 136 mph, which the NOAA is the threshold for an EF-3 tornado.

Update 12:34 p.m. EST Dec. 12: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed that two young children are among the fatalities from Friday’s storms and tornadoes that struck the state.

The governor said a 5-year-old in Muhlenberg County and a 3-year-old in Graves County are among the dead, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

During a Sunday morning interview on CNN, Beshear said 40 of 110 workers from a candle factory in Mayfield had been rescued.

“I’m not sure that we’re gonna see another rescue,” Beshear said. “I pray for it.”

Update 9:24 a.m. EST Dec. 12: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday that the death toll from the tornadoes that ravaged the state has topped 80 and may go even higher.

Beshear gave the estimate during an interview with CNN on Sunday morning.

“I know we’ve lost more than 80 Kentuckians,” Beshear said. “That number is going to exceed more than 100.”

Update 10:15 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton confirmed Saturday that District Judge Brian Crick was among those killed in deadly storms across parts of Kentucky. Crick served McLean and Muhlenberg counties.

“This is a shocking loss to his family, his community and the court system, and his family is in our prayers,” Minton said. “Our thoughts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy.”

Update 5:47 p.m. EST Dec. 11: At least 12 people are confirmed dead in Warren County, Kentucky, after Friday night’s storms and tornadoes, WNKY-TV reported. Warren County Coroner, Kevin Kirby confirmed that his department was working on 11 weather-related deaths, and that some of the fatalities included children.

Bowling Green is the county seat of Warren County.

Update 4:40 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approved a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in the search and rescue efforts in Western Kentucky after the devastating tornadoes.

In a statement, the governor said he activated 10 Texas A&M Task Force 1 personnel along with equipment.

“The state of Texas stands ready to assist our friends in Kentucky as they continue their response and recovery efforts in the wake of deadly tornadoes that shook the western portion of their state overnight,” Abbott stated. “Thank you to the members of Texas A&M Task Force 1 who are making their way to Western Kentucky to help those in need.”

Update 4:24 p.m. EST Dec. 11: During a news conference from Wilmington, Delaware, President Joe Biden said his “heart aches” for the victims and the first responders in the wake of Friday’s storms and tornadoes that occurred in Kentucky and several other Southern and Midwest states.

“This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history,” Biden said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy. And we still don’t know how many lives are lost and the full extent of the damage. I want to emphasize what I told all the governors, the federal government will do everything, everything it can possibly do to help.”

Biden reiterated that he approved a federal emergency declaration for Kentucky.

“Whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to supply it,” Biden said.

The president added that he would visit Kentucky after local and state agencies get the situation under control.

“I said I’ll be happy to come, but I don’t want to be in the way,” Biden said. “When a president shows up, he shows up with an awful lot of personnel. An awful lot of vehicles. An awful lot of, we can get in the way unintentionally. And so what I’m working with the governor of Kentucky and others who may want me to be there, to make sure we’re value added at the time, we’re not going to get in the way of rescue and recovery. I do plan on going.”

Update 4:13 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear fought back tears at times but shared words of encouragement as recovery efforts continued around the state after Friday’s storms and tornadoes.

“I just want everybody to know that you are not alone. Today, Kentucky is absolutely united. We’re united with our people. We’re united to find and rescue as many as possible. We are united to grieve,” Beshear said during a news conference Saturday afternoon. “The devastation is unlike anything I have seen in my life and I have trouble putting it into words.”

Beshear, who earlier said the death toll was “northward of 70,” now believes the toll will be higher than 100.

“I think it can rise significantly,” Beshear said.

Update 3:52 p.m. EST Dec. 11: President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Kentucky, CBS News and CNN reported.

Update 3:18 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Han said the city’s water system was down and that power was out as officials continued to pick through the rubble caused by a strong tornado on Friday night.

“Our town looks like matchsticks,” O’Han told CNN. “It is truly devastating and heartbreaking.”

O’Han said her home, located five blocks from the downtown district, was not damaged, but expressed dismay over the destruction caused by the twister.

“The fire chief had to put chains on his truck to pull the doors open at the fire department,” O’Han said.

Update 2:56 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Nathan Kent, the police chief of Mayfield, Kentucky, said a curfew will be implemented at 7 p.m. EST.

“If you’re not an emergency responder, you need not to be in any of those areas after dark,” Kent said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “If you are, law enforcement officers are going to investigate those circumstances.”

Update 2:36 p.m. EST Dec. 11: President Joe Biden will address the tornadoes and storms that ripped through parts of this South and Midwest during remarks later this afternoon, according to a White House official.’

The President is spending the weekend in Wilmington, Delaware.

Update 1:24 p.m. EST: President Joe Biden spoke with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Saturday and expressed his “condolences for the lives lost.” The president pledged federal assistance after powerful tornadoes struck the state and five other states in the South and Midwest overnight.

“The President indicated that he has directed FEMA and other federal agencies to provide the speediest assistance possible to impacted communities,” the White House said. “The President and the governor agreed to stay in contact throughout the day as search and rescue operations and damage assessments are ongoing.”

In a statement earlier this morning, the White House said Biden was briefed on the storms and that he directed federal resources be “surged immediately.”

Update 12:02 p.m. EST Dec. 11: Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll could be between 70 and 100 people after tornadoes smashed through the state on Friday night.

The governor added that up to 100 people across 10 counties may have been killed by the storms, one of which traveled 227 miles through the state.

Update 11:55 a.m. EST Dec. 11: Deanne Criswell, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, briefed President Joe Biden about the deadly tornadoes that struck the Midwest on Friday night.

“She (Criswell) also briefed on the rapid deployment of FEMA emergency response personnel, water and other needed commodities,” the White House said in a statement.

“The President has directed that Federal resources be surged immediately to the locations where there is the greatest need to alleviate suffering from the devastating consequences of these storms,” the statement read. “Because damage assessments are ongoing, further briefings will be provided to the President in the course of the day.”

Update 11:38 a.m. EST Dec. 11: A worker at the Kentucky candle factory who survived the tornado that ripped through Mayfield, said the factory “was a mess” after the twister roared through the area late Friday.

“Calm down, calm down. We gonna be OK,” Parsons-Perez said in a video shared to social media, NBC News reported.

Parsons-Perez, who turned 40 on Saturday, tried to keep her co-workers focused as rescue workers attempted to remove them from the rubble.

“My birthday is in couple (of) hours,” Parsons-Perez said on the video. “Y’all gotta sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”

Several co-workers began singing, according to NBC News.

Update 11:02 a.m. EST Dec. 11: Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess told The Associated Press that search and rescue teams are still going through the rubble. She said there is no definitive death toll.

“We just can’t confirm a number right now because we are still out there working, and we have so many agencies involved in helping us,” Burgess said.

Update 10:57 a.m. EST Dec. 11: President Joe Biden said he was briefed about the tornadoes in Kentucky and other parts of the Midwest. The president said his staff was working with the governors of the affected states “to ensure they have what they need” as authorities search for survivors and assess the damages.

Update 10:44 a.m. EST Dec. 11: Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan told CNN that “our hearts are broken” after Friday night’s destruction. The mayor added that Mayfield is “a small community, but we are a strong community.”

O’Nan added that it “looked like a bomb went off” in her community.

Red’s Donut Shop of Mayfield announced on Facebook that its building was totally destroyed, WPSD-TV reported.

“I don’t even know what to say. It seems our shop is gone,” Red’s owner wrote in a Facebook post. “We will update as soon as we know more. Please pray forMayfield. It’s horrible, I couldn’t even get to the shop it’s so bad.”

Original report: “We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians, probably end up closer to 70 to 100 lost lives,” Beshear said during a news conference early Saturday, confirming that at least four tornadoes passed through the state. The governor, who declared a state of emergency, called the storm system “the most severe tornado event in Kentucky’s history.”

The severe weather was blamed for deaths across the Midwest and South. An Amazon facility was damaged in Edwardsville, Illinois, and at least one person was killed when a tornado struck a nursing home in Arkansas.

>> At least 1 killed, 5 injured after tornado hits nursing home in Arkansas

Preliminary investigations indicate that four tornadoes may have hit the state, including one that potentially stayed on the ground for more than 200 miles, Beshear said. Damage has been reported in at least 15 counties in western Kentucky, WPSD-TV reported.

“This tornado event may surpass the 1974 super outbreak as one of the most deadly in Kentucky’s history,” Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said during the news conference.

Beshear said the hardest-hit county appears to be Graves County, specifically Mayfield, WLKY reported.

Mayfield is a city of around 10,000 people, according to U.S. Census figures. Buildings impacted in addition to the candle factory struck include the Graves County Courthouse and adjoining jail, according to WPSD.

Beshear said the tornado that hit Mayfield was part of a weather cell that touched down and stayed on the ground for 227 miles, according to WLKY. The twister began in northeastern Arkansas and traveled northeast through parts of Missouri and Tennessee before heading through 200 miles of western Kentucky, the television station reported.

That single tornado is likely to eclipse the track of the current record-holding 1925 tri-state tornado as the longest tornado to move through the area, according to WLKY.

The National Weather Service in Paducah said it had “taken a power hit” and was turning operations over to the office in Springfield, Missouri, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Beshear activated the Kentucky National Guard and the Kentucky State Police early Saturday, the newspaper reported.

The governor added that almost 57,000 people in the state were without power as of 4:45 EST, according to WSMV-TV.

“It will be the single-most severe, certainly tornado event, in our history, and I believe likely our most deadly,” Beshear said during his briefing.

Murray State University, located in Murray, Kentucky, announced it would close on Saturday and canceled its commencement ceremonies, WBKO-TV reported.

At least 24 tornadoes were reported across Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, according to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.