(CNN) – At least 74 people in Kentucky have died after a weekend tornado outbreak in eight states flattened homes and businesses in the Midwest and South.
Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters the death toll figures come from emergency management officials and may differ from what county coroners are reporting.
The governor told a press conference on Monday afternoon that the numbers will change as “we have several of our cities in ruins.”
In addition to the deaths in Kentucky, 109 residents are still missing, Beshear said. At least 14 people have been killed in four other states – six in Illinois, four in Tennessee and two each in Arkansas and Missouri – officials said.
Beshear said 95 National Guard soldiers were researching the deaths and missing people.
âWe hope they won’t find them. We hope someone connects with them and they are there and we just don’t know where they are yet, âhe said. “Maybe they don’t have cell service.”
Earlier, he described the destruction, saying more than 1,000 homes were destroyed and a tornado traveled at least 200 miles.
âWhen that tornado hit it didn’t just take a roof off, which we’ve seen in the past,â Beshear said.
âIt blew up the whole house. The people, the animals, the rest, let’s go.
Family businesses are demolished
Just five hours before a tornado tore through the town of Mayfield, the kids had filled the Gibson Pharmacy for Santa’s annual visit.
âThe hall was full of families. My kids were in there, âsaid Sam Brown, whose father bought the drugstore 38 years ago – the year Brown was born.
“This is actually the very last video I have of the property, a hall full of children sitting in Santa’s lap.”
Brown and his family survived the tornado. But he said the pharmacy was reduced to “a scene of war.” It’s just completely demolished.
The family, however, has always been committed to providing medicine to neighbors quickly.
âWe have another location open on the other side of town. We want to be up and running todayâ¦ to serve the community the best we can. We have worked tirelessly to move it forward.
Indianapolis Fire Department Chief Tom Neal, who leads the search and rescue team deployed to the Mayfield Candle Factory, said authorities were confident no employees were left in the rubble .
Eight people were found dead after the building collapsed and, due to the scale of the destruction, authorities feared the death toll could rise.
More donations (including blood) are needed
In just two days, donors gave $ 4 million to the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund Team, said Beshear.
âAid continues to flow from across the county. Thank you all. We feel your love here, âsaid the governor.
He said the fund’s first expense will be providing $ 5,000 for the burial costs of families who lost loved ones during the storm. The state has asked funeral homes not to charge families of storm victims beyond this.
Beshear said no family will have to apply, as the state will contact directly.
But more help is needed, said Senator Whitney Westerfield.
“We still need blood donations and could always use donations” at Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund Team, Westerfield said.
“I encourage you, (if) you have room for Christmas, donate west Kentucky.”
The American Red Cross has set up eight shelters and is providing relief to nearly 200 people, the group’s Kentucky CEO Steven Cunanan said on Sunday.
Cunanan said the Red Cross’ main goal is to provide food and medical care to people forced to leave their homes by tornadoes. âWe have to help them get their lives back in hand and help them regain a sense of normalcy,â he said.
The emotional toll of having your life turned upside down by a natural disaster is also an important consideration, Cunanan said. âI’ve seen this in every disaster I’ve been on. They are in shock. They don’t know where to turn.
Several state parks have also been opened to help house families who have lost everything, Beshear said Sunday.
âWe welcome them,â Beshear said. âWe try to guarantee everyone a two-week stay, so that they don’t worry about tomorrow. They may worry about reuniting with loved ones, making sure their children have enough to eat.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is on the ground after President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration over the weekend. The move allows low-cost grants and loans to be allocated for housing and home repairs in the affected areas.
Biden said he will visit wednesday to assess damage caused by tornadoes.
When rescuers can’t go door to door because “there are no doors”
In some parts of Kentucky, it’s impossible to know where porches and front doors once were.
“I have cities that are gone – which are just, I mean, gone,” the governor told CNN on Sunday. âYou go door to door to see if people are okay. There are no doorsâ¦ it’s devastating.
About 75% of Dawson Springs has been wiped out, Mayor Chris Smiley said.
âIt’s the worst thing I have ever seen,â said Smiley, who has lived in the small town for 63 years. “It’s just devastating.”
More than 100 people have been reported missing in Dawson Springs, said Nick Bailey, director of emergency management in Hopkins County. But authorities hope most of them have left the city and have not yet registered.
But “hundreds and hundreds” in the city of nearly 3,000 people have no place left to live, Bailey said.
âAlmost an entire city has been moved at this point,â he said.
And those whose homes are still standing will likely not have electricity for a month or so, Bailey said.
The damage did not only concern the buildings. Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that they had lost several large transmission towers and would take weeks, if not months, to replace them.
There were more than 25,000 power outages in the state as of 9 p.m. ET, according to the tracking website. PowerOutage.us.
50 tornadoes in 8 states
While Kentucky may have suffered the most damage, at least 50 tornadoes were reported in seven other states over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
On Sunday, EF-3 tornadoes were identified in Defiance, Missouri; Edwardsville, Illinois; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Saloma, Kentucky; and a strip of Kentucky between Cayce and Beaver Creek.
In Illinois, at least six people died when an Amazon warehouse collapsed in Edwardsville, Fire Chief James Whiteford said.
The six victims were between 26 and 62 years old, the Edwardsville Police Department said.
One of them has been identified as Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old US Navy veteran. He had worked at Amazon for just over a year as a maintenance mechanic, said his mother, Carla Cope.
The young man’s father also worked in the establishment in the same position.
âIf (Clay) hadn’t been there my husband would have been,â Carla Cope said.
An Amazon representative said a tornado warning siren sounded 11 minutes before the storm arrived.
âManagers were on the loudspeakers telling people to come to the shelter-in-place area. They were also guided by other managers and other employees who were trying to get everyone to this safe place, âsaid Kelly Nantel, spokesperson for Amazon. KSDK, subsidiary of CNN Sunday.
She said the workers took shelter in two unspecified safe areas. Nantel said dispatchers have also contacted Amazon delivery drivers in the region and told them to take shelter in place.
In Arkansas, the storm hit a Dollar general store in Leachville and killed deputy manager June Pennington, Mississippi County spokesman Tom Henry said.
In nearby Monette, at least one person has been killed in a tornado-damaged nursing home, Mayor Bob Blankenship said.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said it was a “miracle” that only one person died in the nursing home.
âAs I walked into this facility, it was as if the sky had sucked in the roof and all of its contents,â he said.
âAnd it’s just a miracle with 67 residents that we only lost one. And that’s because of the heroic efforts of the staff and also because we got 20 minutes of warning.
More severe weather conditions could be on the way
As officials focus on the immediate needs of tornado victims, forecasters are watching for the possibility of more severe weather in the area.
Although it is still early days, some areas affected by tornadoes could experience the same type of weather this week, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.
This could include a warming of temperatures followed by another possible risk of severe weather by the weekend.
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