At least 100 feared dead after powerful tornadoes hit Kentucky

Rescue efforts continue but authorities say there is little hope of finding survivors

At least 100 people are feared dead in Kentucky after a swarm of tornadoes tore a 200-mile path through the US Midwest and South, demolishing homes, levelling businesses and setting off a scramble to find survivors beneath the rubble, officials say.

 

Kentucky residents, many without power, gas or even a roof over their heads, woke on Sunday to a landscape scarred by a string of powerful tornadoes that officials fear killed at least 100 people while obliterating homes, businesses and anything else in their way.

Authorities said they had little hope of finding survivors beneath the rubble, but rescue workers continued to scour fields of debris and residents salvaged what belongings they could find.

At least 100 people were believed to have been killed in Kentucky alone after the tornadoes tore through the US Midwest and South on Friday night. Six workers were killed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois. A nursing home was struck in Missouri. More than 70,000 people were left without power in Tennessee.

But nowhere suffered as much as the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky, where the powerful twisters, which weather forecasters say are unusual in winter, destroyed a candle factory and the fire and police stations. Across the town of 10,000 people in the state’s southwestern corner, homes were flattened or missing roofs, giant trees had been uprooted and street signs were mangled.

People combed through the rubble of their homes for belongings until night fell on Saturday, when the power-deprived town became mired in darkness, save for occasional flashlights and emergency vehicle headlights.

Timothy McDill (48), a refrigeration repair technician, slept on Saturday night without water or power in his house in Mayfield, which his parents bought in 1992. A telephone pole had come through a window and the brick exterior was ripped off, leaving entire rooms exposed.

The night of the storm, he tied himself, his wife, his two grandchildren, aged 14 and 12, their two Chihuahuas and a cat to a drainpipe in their basement using a flagpole rope and waited for it to be over.

“They were troopers. They didn’t cry that much,” Mr McDill said of the children. “Me and my missus were doing all the crying. We were scared we were going to lose the kids and they don’t think of that.”

Steve Wright (61) was driving around looking for petrol on Sunday morning, nervous because he was running low. A resident of Mayfield for the last four years, his apartment complex was largely spared.

After the storm had passed, he took a flashlight and started walking around town looking for people who might be trapped. He ended up helping a father pull his dead three-year-old from the rubble.

“It was bad. I helped dig out a dead baby, right up here,” he said gesturing to debris that used to be a two-story house. “I prayed for both of them, that was all I could do.”

Devastation

Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said the tornadoes were the most destructive in the state’s history. He said about 40 workers had been rescued at a candle factory in Mayfield where it is believed about 110 people were inside when it was hit.

“I’ve got towns that are gone ... My dad’s hometown, Paxton, isn’t standing,” Mr Beshear said on CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday, adding the devastation was hard to describe.

“You think you can go door to door to check on people and see if they’re okay – there are no doors. The question is, is somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures?”

In Edwardsville, Illinois, six Amazon workers were confirmed dead on Saturday after a warehouse roof was ripped off, causing 28cm thick concrete walls longer than football fields to collapse.

At least 45 Amazon employees made it out safely from the 45,000sq m facility, fire chief James Whiteford said. It was unclear how many workers were still missing as Amazon did not have an exact count of people working in the sorting and delivery centre at the time, Mr Whiteford said.

The genesis of the tornado outbreak was a series of overnight thunderstorms, including a super cell storm that formed in northeast Arkansas. That storm moved from Arkansas and Missouri and into Tennessee and Kentucky.

Unusually high temperatures and humidity created the environment for such an extreme weather event at this time of year, experts said.

President Joe Biden told reporters he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to examine what role climate change may have played in fuelling the storms.

Mayfield resident Jamel Alubahr (25) said his three-year-old nephew died and his sister was in the hospital with a skull fracture after being stuck under the rubble of their home.

“It all happened in the snap of a finger,” said Mr Alubahr, who was now staying with another sister in Mayfield. –Reuters