In Kentucky, a Candle Factory Survivor Recalls the Moment the Tornado Hit

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‘The scariest moment in my life.’ A candle factory survivor recalls the moment the tornado hit.

Search are rescue crews work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory early Sunday in Mayfield, Ky.
Search are rescue crews work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory early Sunday in Mayfield, Ky.Credit…Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader, via Associated Press
  • Dec. 12, 2021, 1:14 p.m. ET

MAYFIELD, Ky. — In the first video Isaiah Holt posted on Snapchat on Friday evening, he walked around the candle factory where he worked, sipping on pink lemonade as a siren howled behind him. “My only question,” he said, joking, “is do I still get my lunch break in 15 minutes.”

In the next video, Mr. Holt is pinned to the ground, a coating of dust and a painful grimace on his face. In the series of videos that followed, rescuers’ radios beep in the distance and the co-workers he had huddled together with could be heard gasping. “They’re trying to get us,” Mr. Holt, 32, said, pausing to spit out dust that had gotten in his mouth. Still, he feared he would not make it.

“I love y’all,” he said as he held his cellphone’s camera up to his face. “Every one of y’all, I love y’all. I’m sorry.”

Hours later, he was in a hospital room in Nashville. One of his lungs was bruised. Ribs were broken. But he was alive, and for that, he was grateful. “I’ve seen better days,” he said in a telephone interview, as a nurse checked his vital signs and brought him apple juice. “I’m not missing any limbs and I’m not dead.”

He questioned whether he should have gone in for that night shift. He also questioned if the company, Mayfield Consumer Products, should have even stayed open in light of the bad weather. Still, he reported for his evening shift at 5 p.m. on Friday at the plant where he works in the wax and fragrance department, where he mixes the chemicals to pour into kettles to make candles. He had gotten the job two months ago through a temporary worker service. “They paid well. They gave a lot of leeway to people,” he said.

As the warnings grew increasingly dire, he said, some of his co-workers were still joking around. “Everybody is looking at their phones,” he said. “My phone’s saying there’s a tornado, they’ve seen one. People were still taking it lightly.”

“Hey, man,” he told one co-worker, “get underneath this and ball up.” He heard the wind and rain come and then it all seemed to happen in a flash.

He shoved his older brother, who also works at the factory, to the ground and grabbed a few others who were trying to run away. They sought cover behind the towering racks holding the buckets of chemicals used to give the candles their scents. “I’ve been deployed, done tours,” Mr. Holt said, noting that he had served in the U.S. Army and was a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter. “This is the scariest thing I’ve been through in my life because there’s nothing you can do. You’re at the mercy of somebody else and you hope they care enough to get you out. That was the scariest moment in my life.”

He believes his military training saved him. “I went into that mode of ‘I might be losing a leg, I might be losing an arm, but I will survive,'” he recalled.

He was grateful to emerge intact, pulled from the rubble at around 2 a.m. on Saturday. Still, he worried. His brother had been taken to a hospital in Paducah, their hometown, almost 30 miles from the factory. Bricks had fallen on his neck and he’d had trouble breathing. “I still don’t know all the severity of all that,” Mr. Holt said from his own hospital bed.

He was waiting for a cousin who was driving to Nashville to see him and fill him in on his brother’s condition. “I’m pretty sure he’s messed up real bad.”

Finally, by Saturday evening, his phone’s battery was recharged. He had been bombarded by messages. “Now that I look, everybody is like, ‘you made me cry, I thought you was dead for real,'” he said. “I thought I was dead. That’s why I made the video.”

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