A monstrous tornado has killed dozens of people in Kentucky and the toll is climbing after severe weather ripped through at least five states, leaving widespread devastation.
Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said more than 70 people could have died as a twister touched down for more than 200 miles in his state, but the toll could exceed 100
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” he said at a news conference.
The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois and a nursing home in Arkansas.
Officials have confirmed 29 deaths, including 22 in three Kentucky counties.
Mr Beshear said about 110 people were in the Mayfield factory when the tornado roared through.
Debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground in Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in western Kentucky, while twisted metal sheeting, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets.
Kyanna Parsons-Perez, an employee at the factory, was trapped under 5ft of debris for at least two hours until rescuers freed her.
She said it was the “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all.”
Among those who helped rescue the trapped workers were inmates from the nearby Graves County Jail, she said.
“They could have used that moment to try to run away or anything, but they did not. They were there, helping us,” she said.
Kentucky State Trooper Sarah Burgess said rescue crews were using heavy equipment to move rubble at the candle factory.
Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she did not know how many. She said it could take a day and potentially longer to remove all of the rubble.
Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield’s main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado, said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief.
“We have been working tirelessly through the night,” he said. “We had to at times crawl over casualties to get to live victims to get them out.”
President Joe Biden tweeted that he had been briefed on the situation and pledged the affected states would “have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue”.
At least one person died at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, Police Chief Mike Fillback told reporters. The roof of the building was ripped off and a wall about the length of a football field collapsed.
Two people at the facility were taken to hospitals in St Louis about 25 miles away, Mr Fillback said.
Early on Saturday, rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble. Mr Fillback said the process could take several more hours. Cranes and diggers were brought in to help move debris.
“This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
One person died and two others were injured in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both just a few miles from the weather service office.
“This was an incredible storm that lasted a long time and covered a lot of territory,” said Larry Vannozzi, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office covering the Nashville area.
Meteorologists have not determined whether the storm spawned a single tornado or multiple tornadoes, he said.
In Arkansas, a tornado struck a nursing home in Monette, killing one and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said. Five people had serious injuries, he added.
“Probably the most remarkable thing is that there’s not a greater loss of life,” he said after touring the wreckage of the nursing home. “It is catastrophic. It’s a total destruction.”
Three storm-related deaths were confirmed in north-western Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
The storms swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, tearing roofs off homes and flinging debris into road.
Western Kentucky University’s president said on Twitter that one of its student who lived off-campus had been killed. The school called off commencement ceremonies planned for Saturday because the campus was without power.