Tornadoes May Have Caused Fewer Deaths at Kentucky Factory than Previously Thought, Beshear Says

Kentucky officials are verifying new information from a factory in Mayfield.

click to enlarge Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear updates media on Dec. 13, 2021, about recent tornadoes that devastated Kentucky. - YouTube
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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear updates media on Dec. 13, 2021, about recent tornadoes that devastated Kentucky.

Kentucky still is in a dire situation after this weekend's massive tornadoes, but there may be a little hope on the horizon.

During a media briefing Dec. 13, a visibly shaken Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said that search-and-rescue efforts that began shortly after this weekend's devastating tornadoes are ongoing. Kentucky residents in at least eight counties lost their lives and at least 18 counties endured damage.

"I'm not doing so well today. I'm not sure how many of us are," Beshear said.

"Thousands of homes are damaged, if not entirely destroyed," Beshear continued.
 "Right now, we think we have about 30,000 Kentucky homes that are without power. (There is) significant debris removal going on right now. But there's just a mountain of waste. It's going to take a significant amount of time. We've got a significant amount of livestock dead in all of the areas, and there's ongoing cleanup with that, too."

At least four tornadoes zipped through Kentucky during the multi-state blitz Friday evening and early Saturday, Beshear said, including one that stayed on the ground for at least 200 miles. The tornado cluster is considered to be one of the most devastating in history.

The breadth of the destruction and the number of deaths won't be finalized for weeks or months, Beshear said, but the state confirmed 64 deaths as of Monday morning. The deceased includes people ages five months to 86 years old, Beshear said, pausing to gather his thoughts as his voice cracked with despair. He added that experts believe the final count will be above 70 or possibly even 80 lives lost across the state.

At least 105 Kentucky residents are still unaccounted for, Beshear said. Those with information about missing residents are asked to contact the Kentucky State Police.

But there may be some small relief coming, with more people accounted for than previously thought. One tornado ripped through
Mayfield, Kentucky, about five hours southwest of Cincinnati. The city's government center, the fire station and multiple churches were among those hit. In addition, the tornado directly plowed into the Mayfield Consumer Products factory, leaving major wreckage behind in its wake. About 110 people were believed to have been working the night shift there that night; on Saturday, 40 of them were considered rescued.

On Monday, that number seemed poised to increase. Beshear reported that as many as 94 people are alive and accounted for, based on information provided by the factory owners. Eight people are dead and eight more are still missing, Beshear relayed. Kentucky State Police and other crews are working to confirm the information and will provide updates soon, Beshear said.

"We feared much, much worse. And again, I pray that it (the information from the factory) is accurate," Beshear said. "With no phones, with 15+ feet of wreckage that had a dozen backhoes trying to pull things off of it, there was no way at the time to know how many individuals made it out."

The National Weather Service classifies the tornado that hit Mayfield as EF-3, with wind speeds of 136-165 miles per hour. During Beshear's briefing Monday, the governor said he expects that it ultimately will be classified as EF-5, the most destructive on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

The NWS will continue to investigate the tornadoes' properties.

Beshear said that there had been public warnings throughout the week about the likelihood of tornadoes but added that tornadoes of this magnitude are unpredictable.

"There is no safe place when you get hit with something like this," Beshear said. "I don't think anyone could have predicted something as devastating as this."

Beshear estimated the damage across the state to be "hundreds of millions of dollars, at least," though damages still are being assessed.

This weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden approved Beshear's request to declare a state of emergency in many Kentucky counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with state agencies to coordinate disaster relief and body recovery, plus the Kentucky National Guard and Kentucky State Police are assisting.

Biden will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday, according to information shared Monday from the White House press pool.
 
Emergency fundraisers for Kentucky communities are under way, including the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund. Beshear said that as of Monday, the fund had received 31,279 donations and had raised more than $4 million.

Beshear said that the fund's first expense will be for $5,000 in funeral or burial expenses per person. Beshear added that the state is working with service providers to keep costs under that threshold, and state agencies will work together to directly contact affected families about the assistance.

There are additional organizations throughout the state accepting donations of funds, materials or time. See CityBeat's story for an extensive list.

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, estimated that more than 28,000 residents were without power as of Monday morning. At least 97 power structures were damaged, about 29 transmission lines were out and about 8,000 power poles were down throughout the state.

Three water systems were not operational, with 10,400 customers without water, Dossett said. Eleven water systems had limited operational capabilities Monday morning, affecting 17,000 people.

Dossett said that FEMA and other agencies were quick to respond to Kentucky's request for relief organization and funds.

"I can't stress the amount of federal support that came so quickly. I can tell you by just being a veteran of now 17 disasters, it takes time to get wheels rolling," Dossett said.

"Restoration is ongoing. This, again, is not going to be a week or a month operation. This will go on for years to come," he continued. "This was a massive event — the largest and most devastating in Kentucky's history."

To recognize the lives lost throughout the state, Beshear will order Kentucky flags to half staff for on week beginning at sunrise Tuesday, Dec. 14, and running through sundown Monday, Dec. 20.

Watch Beshear's briefing below.


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