Kentucky tornado survivors claw through debris as search turns to recovery

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MAYFIELD — Rescue workers in Kentucky on Sunday scoured debris for survivors as many residents without power, water or even a roof over their heads salvaged what they could after a string of powerful tornadoes that officials fear killed more than 100 people and obliterated homes and businesses.

Authorities said they had little hope of finding survivors after the tornadoes tore through the U.S. Midwest and South on Friday night, killing people in at least five states.


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Six workers were killed at an Inc warehouse in Illinois after the plant buckled under the force of the tornado, including one cargo driver who died in the bathroom, where many workers told Reuters they had been directed to shelter.

A nursing home was struck in Arkansas, causing one of that state’s two deaths. Four were reported dead in Tennessee and two in Missouri.

But nowhere suffered as much as the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky, where the large twisters, which weather forecasters say are unusual in winter, destroyed a candle factory and the fire and police stations.


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Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at least 80 people in his state were dead and the toll was eventually going to exceed 100, but he held out hope for “some miracles” even though it had been more than 24 hours since anyone was found alive in the rubble.

“The very first thing that we have to do is grieve together and we’re going to do that before we rebuild together,” Beshear told reporters on Sunday evening, saying one tornado tore across 227 miles (365 km) of terrain, almost all of that in Kentucky.

A company spokesman said there may be fewer deaths in the candle factory than previously feared.

Among the 110 people who were at the factory, eight have been confirmed dead and eight others have not been located, leaving far fewer missing than had been reported earlier, said Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products.


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“There were some early reports that as many as 70 could be dead in the factory. One is too many, but we thank God that the number is turning out to be far, far fewer,” Ferguson said.

It was unclear how many factory workers Beshear was counting in his estimate.

The governor said the tornadoes were the most destructive in the state’s history and that even the sturdiest structures of steel and brick were flattened.

“It didn’t take a roof, which is what we’ve seen in the past. It exploded the whole house. People, animals … just gone,” Beshear said.

More than 300 members of the National Guard were going door to door and removing debris. Teams were working to distribute water and generators.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency was opening shelters and sending teams and supplies, including 30,000 meals and 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of water.


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Across Mayfield, a community 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.

Laurie Lopez, 53, received a tornado alert on her phone about 20 minutes before her entire house started shaking. She took cover in a hallway with her 19-year-old daughter and their two Huskies.

“Soon the (window) glass … just burst in. We could hear it flying. I have it like all over my bedroom,” she said. The tornado “sounded like a freight train going through a brick house.”

The front of their two-story home appeared collapsed and part of the roof had fallen onto the lawn. Somewhere under the mound of debris was Lopez’s car.


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Mayfield resident Steve Wright, 61, said his apartment complex was largely spared, so he grabbed a flashlight after the storm passed and started looking for people who might be trapped. He ended up helping a father pull his dead 3-year-old child 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.”

Another Mayfield resident, Jamel Alubahr, 25, said his 3-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 Alubahr, who is now staying with another sister in Mayfield.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Cheney Orr and Julio Cesar Chavez in Mayfield, Kentucky; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)



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