IN DEVELOPMENT … The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 4 times
MAYFIELD, Ky. – Workers on the Mayfield Consumer Products night shift were in the midst of the holiday rush, lighting candles, when a tornado hit the factory and the word came out: “Duck and cover up â.
Autumn Kirks took off her safety glasses and took refuge, throwing buckets of wax and perfume aside to make room. She looked away from her boyfriend, Lannis Ward, and when she turned around he was gone.
Governor Andy Beshear initially said on Saturday that only 40 of the 110 people who worked at the plant at the time have been rescued, and that “it will be a miracle if someone else is found alive there.” But on Sunday, the candle company said while eight had been confirmed dead and eight were still missing, more than 90 more had been located.
Dozens of people in several counties in Kentucky are still believed to have died in the storms, but Beshear, after saying Sunday morning that the state’s death toll could exceed 100, said this afternoon it could be as low as 50 .
âWe pray that the original estimates of those we lost may be wrong. If so, it’s going to be pretty wonderful, âthe governor said.
Kentucky was by far the worst-hit state in an unusual mid-December swarm of tornadoes in the Midwest and South that razed entire communities and killed at least 14 people in four other states.
At the candle factory, rescuers had to crawl over the dead to reach the living at a disaster scene that smelled of scented candle.
But by the time worshipers gathered on Sunday morning to pray for the lost, more than 24 hours had passed since someone was found alive in the wreckage. Instead, crews collected pieces of people’s lives – a backpack, a pair of shoes and a cell phone with 27 missed messages were among the items.
Layers of steel and cars 15 feet deep lay on top of what served as the roof of the factory, the governor said.
âWe will cry together, we will dig and clean together, and we will rebuild and move forward together. We will overcome this, âBeshear said. “We’re going to go through this together, because that’s what we’re doing.”
Four tornadoes hit the state in total, including one with an extraordinarily long journey of around 200 miles (322 kilometers), authorities said. The epidemic was all the more remarkable since it occurred at a time of year when the cold normally limits tornadoes.
Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby said the death toll from storms in the Bowling Green area rose from a Sunday to 12.
âI have cities that are gone, that are just, I mean gone. My father’s hometown – half is not standing, âBeshear said of Dawson Springs.
He said it was out of the question to go door to door looking for victims in the hardest hit areas: âThere are no doors.
“We are going to have over 1,000 houses that have disappeared, have just disappeared,” said the governor.
With high afternoon temperatures predicted only in the 1940s, tens of thousands of people were without power. About 300 National Guard members went from house to house, checking people and helping to remove debris. Corpse dogs searched for victims.
Kirks said she and her boyfriend were about 10 feet apart in a hallway when someone said to take cover. Suddenly she saw the sky and the lightning where there was a wall and Ward was gone.
“I remember looking him away for a second and then he was gone,” she said.
She later learned the terrible news – that Ward had been killed in the storm.
âIt was indescribable,â Pastor Joel Cauley said of the disaster scene. âIt was almost like you were in a twilight zone. You could smell the aroma of candles and hear the pleas for help from people. The smells of candles and all the sirens are not something that I thought of. expected to live at the same time.
The outbreak has also killed at least six people in Illinois, where an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a retirement home was destroyed and the governor said workers were protecting residents with their own bodies; and two in Missouri.
Debris of destroyed buildings and ragged trees blanketed the ground in Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 people in western Kentucky. Twisted metal sheets, fallen power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows were blown out and roofs torn from buildings still standing.
In the shadows of their crumpled religious shrines, two Mayfield congregations gathered on Sunday to pray for those who were lost. Members of First Christian Church and First Presbyterian Church met in a parking lot surrounded by rubble, piles of broken bricks and metal.
âOur small town will never be the same again, but we are resilient,â said Laura McClendon. âWe’re going to get there, but it’s going to take a long time.
Associated Press writers Kristin Hall and Claire Galofaro in Mayfield; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.