Rescuers continued to search for survivors on Monday after tornadoes swept through Kentucky and neighboring states over the weekend, devastating entire towns and killing dozens of people.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in an update Monday afternoon that 74 people in the state had been confirmed dead and more than 100 more were missing, with both numbers set to rise.
Beshear said Monday morning it would take “a week or even more before we have a final count of the number of lives lost,” saying the “mountain of garbage” included perished livestock.
Flags from government buildings will fly at half mast for a week starting Tuesday, and a public fund will fund the funerals of those who have died, Beshear said.
The series of non-seasonal storms ravaged several Midwestern and Southern states overnight Friday, leveling a candle factory and entire communities in Kentucky and hitting a nursing home in Arkansas and an Amazon distribution center in the United States. Illinois.
Meteorologists said climate change had most likely worsened the tornado outbreak by altering or amplifying the ingredients that caused the outbreak, such as warmer than average December temperatures.
President Joe Biden on Sunday approved a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, providing federal assistance in at least eight counties after the storm destroyed homes and left thousands of customers without power.
Beshear said he was grateful for the statement, which he said was the fastest he had ever seen, and that Biden had called him three times on Saturday. Biden plans to travel to the state on Wednesday for a storm briefing and to assess the damage in Mayfield and Dawson Springs.
More than 300 National Guard members were on the ground in Kentucky on Monday, while 30,000 homes remained without power.
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Dozens of families were crying. Beshear was among them, as he confirmed that he too had lost loved ones.
Many more were still waiting to see if any loved ones survived, as uneven mobile phone service made it even more difficult to determine who was missing.
“I’m so sorry,” Beshear told those still searching for answers on Sunday. “You’re not supposed to lose people like that, and not knowing and not having the information must make it even more difficult.”
“This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had,” he said.
At least eight people have been confirmed dead after the roof of a candle factory in Mayfield collapsed. The survivors described poignant scenes.
Mayfield Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan told NBC’s “Nightly News” that the town “is gone.”
“We knew it was bad, but it wasn’t until the sun started to rise that we looked at it and saw matches,” she said. “Our hearts are broken.”
Only one Mayfield pharmacy was operating and another was scheduled to open on Monday. Beshear advised people to bring their medicine bottles, although he gloomily noted that “the pharmacy recognizes you probably don’t have them.”
Mayfield was not the only town that was destroyed. Beshear said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday: “I have cities that are gone,” including half of his father’s hometown of Dawson Springs.
In Graves County, a 3-year-old has been confirmed among the dead and two other counties have lost at least a dozen community members.
As Kentucky was the hardest-hit state, devastation spread beyond its borders. Several people have been killed in Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas.
At least six people have been confirmed dead after an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois was devastated.
Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos said in a tweet saturday that he and others were “heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the collapse, the agency said. Amazon spokesmen said on Monday that the investigation was welcome, adding that the structure was built according to the code.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker on Monday issued a disaster proclamation for the affected counties.
At least four people have been confirmed to have been killed in Tennessee and two in Missouri, including a young child. At least two people have been confirmed dead in Arkansas, including one in a nursing home in Monette.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he and his team traveled to western Kentucky on Sunday.
“Pictures don’t do parody justice. There is nothing like seeing it up close and personal, ”he said.
“It was just rubble,” he continued. “We saw a recovered backpack there, an individual’s shoe, a cell phone on which 27 missed calls were recorded.”
He said the survivors were given water, food, clothing and blankets and would be reimbursed for temporary accommodation.
Vice President Kamala Harris, in unrelated remarks on Monday, said: “Our hearts are of course with the communities that have been affected. You have lost so much and so quickly. We are engaged – the President and I, and our administration. – to help you and help heal wounds, which will probably last for a long time. “
“A plan to move forward”
Michael Dossett, director of the Kentucky emergency management division, said efforts were already underway to begin reconstruction.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, he said officials were drafting “a plan to move forward, resulting in new housing being built”.
However, he said, he was also keen to manage expectations, warning that “it doesn’t happen overnight.”
In Mayfield, residents have said they are ready to rebuild as they grapple with the devastating losses to their homes and businesses.
“There’s nothing left here. So all we can do is clean up and start over,” said Wayne Flint, whose family restaurant was razed. “That’s what we’re going to do.… I don’t know what else to do.”
Another resident said: “It will get better. … Neighbors help neighbors. We will come back. ”
Beshear said he suspected “thousands” of homes had been lost.
Some state parks were open for housing, he said, calling for volunteers to help him. “We are not going to let any of our people end up homeless,” he added.
Beshear said in his haste to write down notes on the number of dead and missing on Monday morning, he grabbed one of his children’s school notes on inertia with the reminder “A moving object will stay moving”.
“We will continue to put one foot in front of the other and get through this,” Beshear said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be with you today, we’re going to be with you tomorrow, and we’re going to be with you to rebuild.”
Speaking later Monday afternoon, Beshear advised Kentuckians to be careful and avoid power line outages as people begin to sort through wreckage from their battered towns.
“As you start cleaning up, take pictures. Make a list of your damaged belongings,” he said. “This is going to be really important in applying for public aid. You have to document everything you can.”