UPDATE. Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms hit several states in the east-central United States this Friday evening, killing at least 70 people.
A succession of tornadoes wreaked havoc on Friday night and the night that followed in six states in the east-central United States, killing more than 70 people in Kentucky and destroying homes, public buildings, and industrial sites, authorities announced on Saturday.
At least four tornadoes have been recorded in Kentucky, the main one having traveled more than 350 km across the state, Gov. Andy Beshear said.
The death toll could exceed 100 dead, he said during a press conference in the morning.
“The level of devastation is unlike anything I’ve seen so far,” said Andy Beshear. “We were pretty sure we’d lose over 50 Kentucky people, I’m now sure that number is over 70. It could actually be over 100 before the day is out.”
He added that 189 members of the National Guard had been deployed to assist in emergency responses.
The city of Mayfield, in the western part of the state, on the borders of Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, was particularly affected. About 110 people were inside a candle factory when the tornado passed through the area and caused the roof to collapse, Andy Beshear said, adding that 40 of them were rescued.
Images disseminated on social networks, not authenticated by Reuters, show brick buildings reduced to ruins in the center of this locality of about 10,000 inhabitants, the streets and cars covered with debris. The steeple of the local court appears to have been razed.
Across Kentucky, about 56,000 residents were without power on Saturday morning, said Andy Beshear, who declared a state of emergency.
President Joe Biden has ordered the immediate release of federal funds to help communities worst affected by deadly tornadoes.
This succession of tornadoes seems to have its origin in a series of powerful thunderstorms, including a super thunderstorm cell that formed in northeast Arkansas. This cell moved from Arkansas and Missouri to Tennessee and Kentucky.
“Unfortunately, this generated several deadly tornadoes in its path. One of them could have been a long-trajectory tornado,” said Roger Edward, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center.
In Arkansas, at least one person was killed and five others were seriously injured when a tornado devastated a retirement home in Monette, a small town near Missouri, said Marvin Day, Craighead County official.
“She took the full brunt of the tornado,” he told Reuters. “We were very lucky that there weren’t more deaths or injuries. It could have been a lot worse.”
A few miles further in Leachville, still Arkansas, a tornado destroyed a department store, killing one, and blanketing the town in debris, said Chuck Brown of the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office.
“It really felt like a train was going through town,” he said.
In Illinois, police-reported “confirmed casualties” after the roof of an Amazon warehouse partially collapsed in Edwardsville, near St. Louis. Helpers continued to search for victims or survivors under the rubble.
In Tennessee, at least three people have died from inclement weather, state emergency agency spokesperson Dean Flener said, without being able to elaborate on the circumstances of the deaths.
The Storm Prediction Center, which reports to the National Weather Service, said a total of 36 tornadoes were reported to it in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
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