(NEW YORK) – As rescuers scoured miles of broken homes and commercial buildings for survivors and the dead in Kentucky and seven other states devastated by a series of tornadoes, stories of horror and resilience emerged Sunday.
Sunday services were held in the parking lot of a church in Kentucky that no longer existed. A man who was buried alive with colleagues in a collapsed candle factory has told how he defied death. And an overwhelmed fire chief in one of the hardest-hit towns has spoken of the dangers his crews face as they prepare for another day of searching through the rubble, hoping to find someone. still alive.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at least 50 people were killed in western Kentucky, and the death toll from what he described as “the most devastating tornado event in the history of our state “could exceed 100.
“For the American people, there isn’t a lens big enough to show you the extent of the damage here in Graves County or Kentucky. Nothing that stood in the direct line of this tornado n ‘is still standing,’ Beshear said at a Sunday afternoon press conference with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The governor said no one had been found alive since 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
He said the tornado swarm had caused damage in 18 different counties and destroyed thousands of homes, with the death toll in four counties exceeding double digits.
“I think the best we can hope for would be the 50 (deaths). But I think it’s going to be a lot worse than that, ”Beshear said. “Remember, we are always finding bodies.”
He said at least 300 members of the state National Guard have been deployed across the state to help search for survivors.
Dr Grant Fraser, an emergency room doctor at TriStar Greenview Regional Medical Center in Bowling Green, told ABC News that the 22-bed hospital was quickly inundated with patients in the aftermath of the storm.
“They had serious and serious injuries – crush injuries to the head, chest, spinal injuries, multiple penetrating injuries,” Fraser said of the patients. “So there is a combination of tornadoes and flying objects entering people. Blunt trauma, walls, ceilings that fell on people seriously injured by crushing.
In Mayfield, Ky., A worker at a candle factory that was flattened by a tornado as he and more than 100 other workers were inside, told ABC News it was unfathomable he makes it out alive.
Dakota, a worker at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, recalled the moment the tornado hit the facility, ripping off the roof and raining debris on him and his co-workers.
“We were towards the back, towards the toilet. And then the top of the building was ripped off, ”Dakota told ABC News, who asked that her last name not be released. “And then we said to everyone, ‘Get off! I started pushing people under the water cooler. We were trapped.
Dakota said he and a coworker used a fire hydrant to support the water fountain, which they never thought they would have to use as a rescue shelter, until they didn’t have to. other choice. He said they stood under the fountain for two hours, listening to the swirling winds and the screams of colleagues from other areas of the torn factory.
“We were able to dig our way,” Dakota said. “And then, after we left, we started removing the rest of our team. And then we were able to get first responders in the areas that were needed. I found people – broken legs, I took them out. Some did not respond. It was hard. “
Beshers said around 40 people were rescued at the candle factory. Company CEO Troy Propes told ABC News on Sunday night that eight workers had been confirmed dead, 94 had been located and eight were still missing. At the time of the storm, 110 workers were inside the factory.
He noted that many employees were unable to communicate after the storm due to communication and power issues, which is why it took some time for officials to confirm their safety.
Lora Capps was on her tenth day at the candle factory when the storm hit.
She told ABC News that she and a janitor took refuge in a bathroom and fell into a hole in the floor under the debris. The janitor was unsuccessful, according to Capps.
“He kept saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and I said, ‘I’m trying.’ I want his family to know that I did my best. I said, ‘Just go with God, and I’ll probably follow you,’ ”she told ABC News.
Capps said three men with flashlights found her and helped her to safety. She later found her son, who searched the debris.
But Capps said she is still waiting to find out which of her colleagues survived.
“It’s going to traumatize me for the rest of my life,” she said.
Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason said Hello america that emergency crews faced another day of challenges, calling the search operation underway at the candle factory a “very complicated rescue situation”.
“We have a lot of heavy equipment, a lot of staff. We’re dealing with tons of twisted and mutilated steel and metal… chemicals, and there’s a lot going on on that stage, ”Creason said on Sunday.
He described the rescue operation as “one of the most difficult situations I will probably be – which we will probably have – ever faced in our lifetime.”
But even surrounded by devastation, Creason expressed hope.
“It’s going to leave a mark on our community,” Creason said. “But you know, we’ll rebuild. We will bounce back. I have a very resilient group of first responders who I have the pleasure of serving with on a daily basis. And I couldn’t be more proud of them. And over the next few months and years, you’re going to see our community do the same. We will come back stronger than before.
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton has confirmed that a district court judge, whom he identified as Brian Crick, was among those killed in the tornado outbreak in western Canada. Kentucky.
“This is a shocking loss to his family, community and justice system, and his family is in our prayers,” Minton said in a statement.
Minton added that a tornado caused heavy damage to the Graves County courthouse in Mayfield.
Elsewhere in Mayfield, a parking lot prayer and communion service was held at First Christian Church, one of three churches in downtown Mayfield that were destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm.
Milton West, Chief Minister of First Christian, told worshipers in attendance: “This is a necessary rally.
“I am convinced and I know how heartbroken you are,” West said during the service. “There are no words I can say to take that feeling away.”
He informed the congregation of a surviving church artifact.
“Despite the demolition of our shrine, the central place where we meet, a communion table has survived. He’s in good condition and unharmed, ”West said. “We think that says a lot and what it tells us more than anything else is that we will always have a table to gather around and that because she survived, we know in our hearts that everything everyone is welcome around this table. “
At least 40 tornadoes were reported in nine states between Friday night and early Saturday morning, cutting multiple paths of destruction across Kentucky, Arkansas, southern Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, l ‘Indiana and Ohio.
The National Weather Service on Sunday classified the tornado as EF-3. The NWS estimated the maximum width of the tornado to be about three-quarters of a mile wide.
The tornado that destroyed Amazon’s facility in Edwardsville, Ill. Was also an EF-3 with peak winds of up to 155 mph, according to the NWS. Two other EF-3 tornadoes were reported, one in Defiance, Missouri, and the other in Bowling Green, with winds reaching 150 mph.
A tornado in Hopkins County, Ky., Derailed a 27-car freight train. Rescuers said a car recovered by the tornado landed on a house 75 meters from the tracks.
Mayorkas and Criswell visited devastated areas of Kentucky on Sunday and pledged all the help residents of the state will need to recover and rebuild.
Beshears said more than $ 2.5 million in donations have poured in from across the country to help devastated communities and pay for funeral costs.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Kentucky on Saturday and ordered federal aid to support local response efforts.
On Sunday evening, he updated his statement, making federal funding available to those affected in Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor and Warren counties. It has also enabled residents to obtain assistance, such as grants for temporary housing or business repairs.
“We want to focus today and tomorrow on saving lives. We really want to make sure we find someone who might still be trapped in the rubble in all of these states, ”Criswell said Sunday morning on ABC. This week.
Criswell added, “But then it’s going to be a long recovery and we really need to focus on how we’re going to help these communities with their immediate needs, their immediate shelter needs and the long term housing needs that are going to really be. need to help these communities and families to rebuild themselves.
ABC News’ Victor Oquendo, Reena Roy, Marcus Moore, Joshua Hoyos and Daniel Peck contributed to this report.
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