Biden deploys federal resources to devastated areas.
Dozens of people were feared dead, and communities across the Midwest and South were digging through rubble on Saturday after a string of unseasonably powerful storms and tornadoes swept across five states overnight.
Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said that at least 70 had been killed in a tornado’s path of over 200 miles, and that the state’s death toll could increase to more than 100.
In Mayfield, Ky., about 110 people had huddled inside a candle-making factory when a tornado ripped through it. About 40 people were rescued, but Mr. Beshear said he believed “dozens” had been killed there. At a news briefing on Saturday, shaken local officials said they were struggling to comb through the debris amid blocked roads and lost water and electrical service.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Mr. Beshear said at the briefing. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
Other states were also hit hard. Officials said that there were “confirmed fatalities” after a roof collapsed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, three had died in Tennessee and two in Arkansas.
The storms — dark and immense funnel clouds that roared across the nighttime landscape — obliterated homes, churches and businesses, set buildings on fire and knocked a train with 28 empty rail cars from its tracks, leaving unearthly scenes of destruction.
In Mayfield, among the hardest-hit communities, the center of town had been become a perilous maze of downed utility lines, dangling tree limbs and scattered debris. Jesse Perry, the judge executive in Graves County, which includes Mayfield, said local officials were “in the trenches, trying to find people.”
“We need your prayers,” he said, voice wavering at a news conference on Saturday. “We need your help.”
The White House said in a statement that President Biden had been briefed on the devastation and that the federal government had pledged its “full support as needed.”
In Arkansas, a 94-year-old died and five people were injured when a tornado demolished the Monette Manor nursing home, said Monette’s mayor, Bob Blankenship.
Mandi Sanders, who works at the home, said staff members helped residents cover their heads with pillows to protect them from flying glass and debris before the walls caved in and parts of the roof collapsed.
“It was like a roaring train,” she said. “I didn’t think it would ever end.”
A person was also killed at a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, Ark., Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
“Probably the most remarkable thing is that there’s not a greater loss of life,” Mr. Hutchinson said at a news briefing.
Scientists are not sure whether there is a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes, in part because of limited data. But researchers say that in recent years tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater “clusters,” and that a so-called tornado alley in the Great Plains — where most tornadoes occur — appears to be shifting eastward.
At least five states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee — were hit by tornadoes on Friday night, said Bill Bunting, the operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service.
He said the tornadoes were part of a weather system that was wreaking havoc in many parts of the country, causing substantial snowfall across parts of the upper Midwest and western Great Lakes.
The Edwardsville Police Department in Illinois said early Saturday that the storms had resulted in “catastrophic damage to a significant portion” of an Amazon warehouse. It was not immediately known how many people had died there. A search-and-rescue operation was underway and next of kin were being notified, the police said.
In Tennessee, two people died in Lake County and one in Obion County, in the western part of the state, said Dean Flener, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Complicating rescue effort were thousands of power outages across the region. About 145,000 homes in Tennessee and 78,000 in Kentucky had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us.
At least 70 people were killed in the deadly tornado that struck Kentucky on Friday, and the death toll could rise to more than 100 across about 10 counties, Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said on Saturday.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Mr. Beshear said at a news conference in Mayfield, a town of nearly 10,000 people in the state’s western corner, and where most of the tornado’s destruction was centered. He declared a state of emergency on Friday, and rescuers in counties across the state mobilized overnight, contending with darkness, powerful wind and driving rain to try to find people trapped in collapsed houses and buildings.
The tornado carved a devastating and extraordinarily long path through the state, running some 200 miles. In Mayfield, in what may be the single largest loss of life on Friday, 110 workers were trapped inside a candle factory when the tornado roared through in the evening.
About 40 people were rescued, officials said, but the last person found alive was pulled out at 3:30 a.m. Mr. Beshear said he expected that “dozens” of others had not survived. Officials at the news conference said the factory had been flattened, and that cars and rubble had blown on top of what remained.
“We’re going to lose a lot of lives in that factory,” Mr. Beshear said. “It’s a very dire situation at this point.”
Mike Dossett, Kentucky’s emergency director, said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending a search and rescue team to the candle factory.
The city’s police chief, Nathan Kent, said that Mayfield and surrounding areas affected by the tornado would be under 7 p.m. curfew.
The biggest challenge in the coming days, he said, will be communication, because the force’s vehicular fleet was “compromised” by the tornado.
About 90,000 people in the state were without power as of Saturday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.
More than 180 members of the National Guard have been dispatched to assist with the search for survivors and to assist in getting people to safety. The authorities asked residents who are not emergency responders to stay out of the affected areas.
Michael E. Dossett, the director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said the number of storms could surpass the 1974 super outbreak of tornadoes. He also said that the length of one tornado’s track could rival that of the 1925 tornado outbreak that killed hundreds as it cut a path through Southern and Midwestern states.
“It is a significant, massive disaster event,” Mr. Dossett said.
MAYFIELD, Ky. — The grid of narrow streets in the heart of Mayfield, Ky., had become a perilous maze of downed utility lines, dangling tree limbs and scattered debris. Yet residents were out on Saturday morning, struggling to maneuver around it all, anguished by the aftermath of the tornado that had shredded their community.
As the sun rose in Mayfield, a town of 10,000 people in the western corner of Kentucky, residents could see for the first time the destruction they had heard the night before as the storm descended in the darkness with its howling winds and the crunching and groaning of homes and businesses being torn apart.
Some of the largest buildings in town had been leveled or were close to it. Mayfield First United Methodist Church, a cavernous sanctuary with a stone facade, had almost entirely collapsed. Other buildings had been reduced to piles of red bricks.
The rolling pastures and quiet woods that surround Mayfield had been left muddy and with a dusting of leaves but were otherwise intact. But on the two-line highways snaking into town, the tornado’s wrath announced itself with the vistas of homes that had their brick exteriors shaved off, churches with roofs peeled away and seemingly sturdy trees that had been snapped at their trunks like twigs.
D.J. Swant hurried into her cellar at around 9 p.m. on Friday. The local authorities had stressed just how bad the storm could be.
“We took them at their word, and thank God we did,” she said.
Her bed had been showered with limbs and glass from broken windows. The balcony was gone. Chimneys crumbled. A towering column had been shifted out of place.
Ms. Swant, a retired health-care administrator from the Milwaukee area, moved with her husband to Mayfield six years ago, fleeing the bitter cold of Wisconsin but more than anything lured by the grand old house, built in 1890. It had the balcony, seven fire places and some 6,000 square feet. Her neighbors called it Dr. Jackson’s house, named after a longtime resident.
After they moved in, people in the town stopped by and talked to her and her husband. They wanted to see the improvements the Swants had made to the house and thank them for putting in the effort to bring back an historic house that had sat empty for years.
On Saturday, neighbors were pulling up yet again, this time to see how she was doing.
“Our church is totally gone,” one neighbor who pulled up in a truck told Ms. Swant. “Nothing was salvageable except for the communion table.”
“That’s one of the reasons I love this place,” Ms. Swant said after the truck pulled away. “We’ll be OK,” she added. “We’ll be OK. It’ll take a while. But we’ll be OK.”
The police in Edwardsville, Ill., said there were at least two “confirmed fatalities” at an Amazon warehouse after a direct hit from a tornado caused a major portion of the building to collapse on Friday night, leaving “catastrophic damage to a significant portion” of the building.
Three people were rescued from the building, and one of them was taken to a hospital, said Mark Mayfield, a captain with the Edwardsville Fire Department. He did not know the person’s status on Saturday morning but said he believed the person to be in “stable condition.”
Thirty workers made it out of the building safely by themselves, the police said. A bus carried several workers to reunite with families in nearby Pontoon Beach, said Michael Fillback, the Edwardsville police chief.
Captain Mayfield said he did not know how many workers were inside the building when the tornado struck around 8:30 p.m., but Chief Fillback told the St. Louis station KDSK-TV on Saturday that the number was not “in the hundreds.” Chief Fillback estimated at a news conference on Saturday morning that about 50 people had been in the building.
Emergency responders received the initial call at 8:38 p.m. and arrived several minutes later, Captain Mayfield said, with about 100 responders on the scene shortly after the building collapsed. More than a dozen area police, fire and emergency medical service departments responded.
On Saturday morning, police blocked off the entrance to the campus, which is about 20 minutes northeast of St. Louis.
The building, which is two years old, is in a distribution hub on the west side of town with about 20 warehouses ranging from about 100,000 to 1.4 million square feet, he said. There is another Amazon warehouse across the highway. The tornado caused the collapse of a wall the size of a football field at the warehouse, along with the roof above it, according to The Associated Press.
“About half of it’s missing, it’s gone,” Captain Mayfield said of the building, which is about 400,000 square feet. The other half of the building remained standing on Saturday morning, he said, adding that workers were able to safely evacuate from that area.
“There’s a lot of debris from the concrete; that is predominately a concrete and steel structure,” Chief Fillback said on Saturday morning, adding, “It’s windy outside, so things are unstable.”
On Saturday morning, a steady stream of construction vehicles entered the scene. Workers appeared to be using a crane to clear wreckage from the site. Winds continued to blow at more than 20 mph Saturday morning, causing cars to shake.
Ingrid Barahona, 37, was on a delivery route 20 minutes away from the warehouse when the building collapsed.
On Saturday morning, she was trying to learn what happened to another worker who was still missing.
“I’m asking God that she was OK,” she said.
On Saturday morning, Ms. Barahona borrowed her sister’s car to drive with her 4-year-old daughter to a parking lot near the warehouse. Tow truck drivers were removing cars from the disaster site. Many of them were destroyed; Ms. Barahona’s car suffered significant damage.
Parked on the side of the road near the warehouse were Jordon and Kelsi Bryn of nearby Bethalto, Ill. They said they were relieved that Ms. Bryn’s mother, who works as a delivery driver at the Amazon facility across the highway from the damaged warehouse, was okay. They said the storm hit minutes after she got off work on Friday night.
Ms. Byrn’s mother told her that she had gotten out of the building just before Amazon told workers to shelter in place. “When she was on the highway, there were so many semis tipped over she had to pull a U-turn and wait under a viaduct until the storm passed,” Ms. Byrn said.
Captain Mayfield said that the remaining part of the building would probably have to be demolished. “I don’t see any way that they can salvage it,” he said.
Heavy machinery was brought in to move the collapsed walls to ensure that there were no other people unaccounted for, and rescue teams were checking inside vehicles that had been crushed by the collapsed walls.
“We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Ill.,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement on Saturday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones and everyone impacted by the tornado.”
Amazon opened two warehouses in Edwardsville, about 25 miles east of St. Louis, in 2016, employing about 2,200 people, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017.
At least three people were confirmed dead on Saturday morning after storms roared through Tennessee overnight, officials said.
Sirens had howled overnight in the state as the winds swept through, climbing to faster than 80 miles per hour.
Two people died in storms in Lake County and one in Obion County, in the western part of the state, said Dean Flener, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Search-and-rescue operations were continuing throughout the state on Saturday morning, he said.
“Even though the weather is moving out, it’s still dark here and it’ll be a bit before the locals are able to go out and do thorough damage assessments and get a handle on any of that,” he said shortly after 6 a.m.
One person was killed and two others were injured after a tornado touched down in Defiance, Mo., just west of St. Louis, on Friday night.
The person who died was one of two of the victims taken to a trauma center in St. Louis. The third sustained minor injuries after part of a building collapsed.
The tornado touched down around 8 p.m. near Route 94 and Highway F in Defiance. Several homes were damaged, and although the highway was cleared by Saturday morning, the extent of the destruction had not yet been determined, said Mary Enger, director of communications for St. Charles County.
“Workers are out here, but we are still assessing the damage,” she said.
Emergency services and local fire departments were involved in the rescue effort, said Kyle Gaines, the director of community relations for the St. Charles County Ambulance District. District authorities were also in touch with local utility companies, including Ameren.
“Whenever we develop our list of what-ifs, tornadoes are always up there, so this is a scenario we plan and prepare for,” Mr. Gaines said. “The people involved train year-round for these kinds of situations.”
Tornadoes are relatively localized short-lived weather events. And scientists are not yet able to determine whether there is a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes, in part because they have a limited data record.
But researchers say that in recent years tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater “clusters,” and that a so-called tornado alley in the Great Plains — where most tornadoes occur — appears to be shifting eastward.
“This is what we would call a tornado outbreak, where you have a storm system which produces a number of tornadoes over a large geographical area,” Dan Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said on Friday.
But such a large and powerful system in December is highly unusual, and something the region usually experiences in May or April.
“It’s certainly not unheard-of,” he said of tornadoes this late in the year, “but to have an outbreak of this magnitude, with this many tornado reports — it’s a little unusual for this time of year.”
Temperatures in Arkansas and Kansas on Friday were “spring weather,” Mr. Pydynowski said. Highs were in the 70s and 80s.
“It was unusually warm, and there was moisture in place,” he said, “and you had a strong cold front end. These are the ingredients for big storms in the spring, but not in mid-December.”
Even though scientists are observing more clusters, it is unclear the role that climate change plays. “For a lot of our questions about climate change and tornadoes, the answer is we don’t know,” said Harold Brooks, a senior research scientist at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. “We don’t see evidence for changes in average annual occurrence or intensity over the last 40 to 60 years.”
In recent years, scientists have been able to draw links between a warming planet and hurricanes, heat waves and drought, attributing the likelihood that climate change played a role in isolated events.
“This is the hardest phenomenon to connect to climate change,” said Michael Tippett, an associate professor of applied physics and mathematics at Columbia University who studies extreme weather and climate.
The complexity of tornadoes, as well as a more limited data record, makes those types of studies challenging to perform.
The tornado record is still sparse compared with other types of events. One reason for this might be that tornadoes are relatively local weather events. Tornado records have largely been based on someone seeing a tornado and reporting it to the National Weather Service. This means that smaller tornadoes that occur in rural areas and have not caused property damage or injury may not be reported.
“We are pretty sure we know how many hurricanes make landfall in the United States each year,” Dr. Brooks said. “With tornadoes, we may not know how many occurred yesterday and last night.”
A more significant problem, however, is the complexity of tornadoes themselves. There are several ingredients that give rise to tornadoes, including warm, moist air at the ground level, cool dry air aloft, and wind shear, or the change in wind speed or direction, each of which may be affected differently by climate change.
A tornado’s small size also makes it harder to model, the primary tool that scientists use when attributing climate change to extreme weather events.
Still, Dr. Tippett said that based on all the evidence, computer modeling shows that the environmental conditions favorable to tornadoes may increase in the future. “Our confidence is low, but the evidence points to the same direction.”
As residents in at least five U.S. states assessed the damage on Saturday from a spree of powerful storms and tornadoes, forecasters warned of more inclement weather looming across the country.
Severe storms, tornadoes and damaging wind gusts were likely to occur from the Lower Mississippi Valley to the Ohio Valley into Saturday, the National Weather Service said in an advisory at 3 a.m. Eastern time. It said the system would also produce heavy snow over the Upper Great Lakes and rain over parts of the Northeast.
At least five states were swept by tornadoes on Friday, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
On Friday night, the Weather Service issued tornado warnings for several counties in eastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. Forecasters said they expected that system to move into Ohio, eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee.
The National Weather Service office in Nashville said early Saturday that tornado warnings were in effect for several Tennessee counties, and that a “large and extremely dangerous tornado” was moving northeast at 60 miles per hour near over Kingston Springs, about 30 miles west of Nashville.
A tornado outbreak tore through several states on Friday night. At least five were struck, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
The tornadoes were part of a weather system that was wreaking havoc in many parts of the country, causing substantial snowfall across parts of the upper Midwest and western Great Lakes.
Dozens of people were killed.
Kentucky’s governor said Saturday morning that at least 70 had been killed in a tornado’s path of over 200 miles, and that the state’s death toll could increase to more than 100 in the coming hours.
The storms caused a wall and roof to collapse at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, leaving workers trapped inside. The authorities confirmed people had died, but did not say how many as of Saturday morning.
Officials in Tennessee said three people were killed: two in Lake County and one in Obion County, in the western part of the state.
In Arkansas, at least one person was killed at a nursing home in Monette, and another at a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The precise number of people killed and injured was not yet known, and search-and-rescue operations were continuing in several places Saturday morning.
What’s the damage like?
Officials across the five-state area were still assessing the extent of the damage on Saturday morning. Local news reports and videos on social media showed crumbled buildings and downed trees across the storm’s path.
As of Saturday morning, about 140,000 homes were without power in Tennessee, 92,000 in Kentucky, 23,000 in Arkansas, nearly 16,000 in Illinois and 10,000 in Missouri, according to reports compiled by PowerOutage.us.
The storms also caused a freight train to derail, although no injuries were reported.
Although severe tornadoes are rare in December, the cluster that hit at least five states on Friday was not unprecedented.
Here’s a roundup of some notable tornadoes and tornado clusters that have hit the United States in December.
Tornadoes pummeled Mississippi, Tennessee and several other states before Christmas, causing more than a dozen deaths, and reducing homes and businesses to rubble.
Dallas also experienced a deadly outbreak of nearly a dozen tornadoes later that week that left 13 people dead, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database, sweeping across more than 100 miles. It was the deadliest tornado system to hit the Dallas area since 1927, the National Weather Service wrote in a post on Twitter at the time.
Stormy weather coincided with the Christmas season again, when a rare tornado touched down in Port Orchard, just west of Seattle, and several low-intensity tornadoes touched down in Florida, damaging more than 70 homes in a mobile home park.
Earlier that month, tornadoes also swept through central and southwest Illinois; at the time, the National Weather Service called it the state’s largest December outbreak since 1957.
On the same day, a tornado struck a motel in Lawrence County, Mo., according to the NOAA database, leaving one man dead.
A day of multiple tornadoes mid-month, across four Southern states, left three people dead, according to the NOAA database, in Lawrence County, Ala., and Vernon Parish, La.
President Biden directed that federal resources “be surged immediately” to the areas most affected by the tornadoes, according to a statement from the White House.
“This morning, I was briefed on the devastating tornadoes across the central U.S. To lose a loved one in a storm like this is an unimaginable tragedy,” Mr. Biden said on Twitter. “We’re working with Governors to ensure they have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue.”Mr. Biden spoke with Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky on Saturday morning and told him that he had directed federal agencies “to provide the speediest assistance possible to impacted communities,” the White House said.
The White House said that federal emergency response personnel, water and “other needed commodities” were being deployed.
The goal is to direct resources “where there is the greatest need to alleviate suffering from the devastating consequences of these storms,” according to the White House.
A White House official said the president and his staff were also in touch with state and local officialsas they continued to search for survivors and assess the damage of the storm in order to provide the full support of the federal government.
Mr. Biden was briefed by several officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others.
“Because damage assessments are ongoing, further briefings will be provided to the President in the course of the day,” the White House said.