MAYFIELD, Ky. – The death toll from a series of tornadoes that roared across at least five states was rising Sunday, as somber rescuers picked through the rubble of shattered buildings and communities, searching for survivors and remains.
More than 30 tornadoes were reported late Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Kentucky was hardest hit, with 50 confirmed fatalities early Sunday, but scores more people were missing and feared dead after a tornado here destroyed a candle factory with more than 100 people inside.
In Illinois, at least six people were killed when a tornado ripped through an Amazon warehouse north of St. Louis. Four deaths were confirmed in Tennessee and two each in Arkansas and Missouri.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday more than 100 people likely died in his state alone, including at least two of his own relatives. Entire towns were flattened by the twisters, he said. Emergency responders were going door-to-door looking for survivors – although in some cases “there aren’t doors,” he added.
He said several young children were among the dead.
“I know we lost a number of kids,” Beshear said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “This tornado did not discriminate. Anybody in its path, even if they were trying to be safe.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press, he tried to capture the scope of the disaster.
“This has been absolutely devastating,” Beshear said. “There’s not a camera lens big enough to show the path of absolute destruction. People have lost everything.”
Valeria Yanis, a mother of two, was working a late shift at the candle factory as the tornado hit. She said employees rushed to one of the bathrooms for cover as the lights went out and the noise intensified. She hid under a water fountain.
“We couldn’t see anything. Everyone was panicking,” she said. “Everything fell on us. Roof, metal, and rocks. We were all trapped. … There were so many screams.”
In Illinois, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said late Saturday that another injured Amazon worker was airlifted to a hospital and searchers were carefully picking through the rubble for additional victims. At least 45 people escaped the collapse.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee toured some of the hardest-hit communities Saturday, calling it a “very difficult day for many of our neighbors.”
Four people were confirmed dead in northwestern Tennessee’s Lake County and neighboring Obion County, with one person still missing in the area and 10 people injured.
In Arkansas, one person died when a tornado slammed a nursing home in Monette, a town of about 1,500 people 60 miles north of Memphis. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said staffers at the home used their own bodies to shield residents from the carnage.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of homes that are lost, businesses that are totally destroyed,” Hutchinson said on “Face the Nation.” He said President Biden promised to help cut through red tape to get federal assistance to the needy as quickly as possible.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said he would visit some hard-hit areas in St. Charles and Pemiscot counties on Sunday.
“I want all Missourians who have been affected by recent storms to know that my office and all of state government stands ready to assist them,” Parson tweeted.
In Kentucky, Beshear expressed gratitude to untouched communities in his state and elsewhere that were providing assistance and prayers.
“We’re hoping for miracles, whether it’s in that candle factory or other places,” he said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Nada HassaneinJohn T. MartinJoe Sonka and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press