National Guard goes house to house to check on survivors of tornadoes that killed dozens
MAYFIELD, Ky. – Residents of a town in Kentucky devastated by a tornado could be without heat, water and electricity in cold weather for “a long time,” the mayor warned on Monday, as authorities struggled to restore services after a swarm of tornadoes razed neighborhoods and killed dozens of people in five states.
Authorities are still assessing the devastation caused by Friday’s storms, although they believe the death toll will be lower than initially feared, as many more people appear to have escaped from a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, than initially thought.
âIt’s a tough morningâ¦ but it’s okay, everything will be fine,â Mayfield Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan said on âCBS Morningsâ.
But those who survived faced highs in the 1950s and a low below freezing on Monday without any utilities.
âWe lost a water tower, so we don’t have water within the city limits. All power was cut just for safety’s sake after everything went down, “O’Nan told NBC’s” Today “show. “And the natural gas has been cut off because of so many leaks. So we have no resources.”
“Resources are going to take a long time to be restored here,” she added.
Across the state, tens of thousands of people were without power. Members of the National Guard went from house to house, checking people and helping to remove debris. Corpse dogs searched for victims.
Kentucky was by far the most affected the group of twisters across several states, remarkable because they arrived at a time of year when the cold normally limits tornadoes. They have left at least eight people dead at the state’s Mayfield Consumer Products candle plant and 12 more are believed to have been killed in and around Bowling Green. At least 14 other people have died in Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.
Authorities are still trying to determine the total number of deaths, and storms made house-to-house searches impossible in some places. âThere are no doors,â Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
“We are going to have over 1,000 houses that have disappeared, that have just disappeared,” he said.
Beshear had said on Sunday morning that the state’s toll could exceed 100. But he later said it could be as low as 50.
Initially, up to 70 people feared death at the candle factory, but the company said on Sunday that eight had been confirmed dead and eight were still missing, while more than 90 others had been located.
âMany employees were gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over they left the factory and went to their homes,â said Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for the company. âWith the power outage and no landline, they were difficult to reach at the start. We hope to find more of these eight missing as we try out their residences.
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.
City firefighters had to tear down the doors of the fire station to get the vehicles out, according to Fire Chief Jeremy Creason on “CBS Mornings.”
âWords cannot describe the bravery, the selflessness they have shown,â he said of his employees. âWe had to try to navigate through all the debris on our streets. We responded with ambulances with three and four flat tires. “
O’Nan said historic downtown churches were destroyed – just a week after she and others visited them on a pre-Christmas “Advent walk”.
âWe didn’t know this would be the last time we would do this,â she said in âTodayâ. “But we are so, so grateful that we had this opportunity, which will stay in our hearts forever – every Christmas, that’s what we’ll be thinking about.”
At the candle factory, night workers were in full swing for the holidays when word spread for shelter.
For Autumn Kirks, that meant throwing aside the buckets of wax and perfume to create a makeshift safe place. She looked away from her boyfriend, Lannis Ward, who was about 10 feet away at the time.
Suddenly she saw the sky and lightning where there was a wall, and Ward had disappeared.
âI remember looking him away for a second and then he left,â Kirks said.
Later that day, she 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.
Four tornadoes hit Kentucky in total, including one with an extraordinarily long journey of about 200 miles (322 kilometers), authorities said.
In addition to the deaths in Kentucky, the tornadoes 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.
Pope Francis has expressed his sadness at the “devastating impact” of the tornadoes. In a telegram sent Monday by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope offered prayers for those who have died, “comfort to those who mourn their loss and strength to all who are touched by this immense tragedy”.
In the shadows of their crumpled religious shrines, two Mayfield congregations gathered on Sunday to pray for those who were lost.
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, Zeke Miller and Dino Hazell in Washington; and Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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