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Crews search for the missing after devastating tornadoes in Kentucky kill dozens

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Rescuers combed through fields of wreckage after a tornado outbreak roared across the middle of the US, leaving dozens dead and communities in despair.

A twister carved a track that could rival the longest on record as the stormfront smashed apart a candle factory, crushed a nursing home and flattened an Amazon distribution center.

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“I pray that there will be another rescue. I pray that there will be another one or two,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said, as crews sifted through the wreckage of the candle factory in Mayfield, where 110 people were working overnight Friday when the storm hit. Forty of them were rescued.

“We had to, at times, crawl over casualties to get to live victims,” said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and EMS director.

In Kentucky alone, 22 were confirmed dead by late on Saturday, including 11 in and around Bowling Green. But Beshear said upwards of 70 may have been killed when a twister touched down for more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) in his state and that the number of deaths could eventually exceed 100 across 10 or more counties.

The death toll of 36 across five states includes six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.

If early reports are confirmed, the twister “will likely go down perhaps as one of the longest track violent tornadoes in United States history,” said Victor Genzini, a researcher on extreme weather at Northern Illinois University.

The longest tornado on record, in March 1925, tracked for about 220 miles (355 kilometers) through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But Genzini said this twister may have touched down for nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers). The storm was all the more remarkable because it came in December, when normally colder weather limits tornadoes, he said.

Debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground in Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in western Kentucky. Twisted metal sheeting, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets.

Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings that were still standing.
The missing at the candle factory included Janine Denise Johnson Williams, a 50-year-old mother of four whose family members kept vigil at the site on Saturday.

“It’s Christmastime and she works at a place that’s making candles for gifts," her brother, Darryl Williams, said. “To give up the gift of life to make a gift. We haven’t heard anything, and I’m not presuming anything. But I’m expecting for the worst.”

He said Johnson Williams called her husband overnight to report the weather was getting bad, the last time anyone heard from her.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez, an employee at the factory, was trapped under 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) of debris for at least two hours until rescuers managed to free her.

In an interview with NBC's “Today,” she said it was “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all.”

Just before the tornado struck, the building’s lights flickered. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started popping and then, “Boom. Everything came down on us.” People started screaming, and she heard other workers praying.

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 didn’t know how many.

Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield’s main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado, Creason said.

After a wall at a nursing home in Mayfield collapsed, Vernon Evans said he rushed to help firefighters pull people out, only to find one resident lying dead in a few inches of water.

“All I could do is sit there and hold their head up,” he said. “I never experienced nothing like this.”

President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for Kentucky on Saturday and pledged to support the affected states.

“I promise you, whatever is needed — whatever is needed — the federal government is going to find a way to provide it," Biden said.

Six people were killed in the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital, fire Chief James Whiteford said.

Investigators searched the rubble throughout the day for additional victims and 45 people survived, Whiteford said. Authorities were uncertain Saturday evening whether anyone was still unaccounted because workers were in the midst of a shift change when it was struck by the tornado about 8:30 p.m. on Friday.

“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.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has been trying to organize workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama, criticized the company for keeping the Illinois site open during a weather emergency.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office said the storms killed at least two people in the state and initial assessments indicate they destroyed or did major damage to hundreds of homes and buildings.

Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take shelter as a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of St. Louis.

“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 haven’t 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 told The Associated Press.

Another person died when the storm hit a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

“Probably the most remarkable thing is that there’s not a greater loss of life,” Hutchinson said after touring the wreckage of the nursing home. “It is catastrophic. It’s a total destruction.”

Four storm-related deaths were confirmed in northwestern Tennessee, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said.

“This is about the saddest thing I've ever seen,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said after touring the community of Dresden, which saw its downtown corridor ripped apart. “The whole town, the whole town.”

Read more: US tornado outbreak likely ‘one of the largest’ in history: Biden

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Saudi Arabia’s Khalid bin Salman: We strive to bring Yemen within GCC system

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Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid Bin Salman said on Tuesday that the Kingdom and Gulf countries are striving to bring Yemen within the GCC system so that its people can enjoy security and stability.

“The Kingdom and the Arab Gulf states seek to bring Yemen within the GCC system so that its people can enjoy security, stability and development like other Gulf nations. However, the Houthi militias chose terrorism and destruction and used the people of Yemen as firewood that serves the Iranian regime’s agenda. We assure the people of Yemen that they are from us and we are from them and we will always be on their side,” the Prince said in a tweet.

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He added that Houthi militias employ “false promises and repetitive illusions” to “deceive” Yemenis and “recruit them into a deadly war.”

“The time has come for Yemeni wisdom, and the wise men of Yemen, to forsake those illusions and promises, and to preserve the free people of Yemen from the tampering of terrorist militias,” the Prince said.

Prince Khalid’s statements come a day after the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi was rocked on Monday when drone attacks led to a fire breaking out and resulted in the explosion of three petroleum tankers, killing three people and wounding six others. There was also another fire that broke out in the area of the new construction site of Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Yemen’s Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attack saying it conducted an operation “deep in the UAE.”

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US worries Russian troop arrival could lead to nuclear weapons in Belarus

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The US is worried that the arrival of Russian troops in Belarus for exercises could become a permanent presence that might lead to nuclear weapons into the country, a senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday.

Russian military forces were moving into Belarus after Moscow-allied strongman Alexander Lukashenko announced Monday that the two countries will conduct military exercises next month.

The move, which came without customary advance notice being provided countries in the region, added to rising tensions with the West over the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, which borders Belarus.

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The US official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said the size of the Russian force arriving in Belarus was “beyond what we'd expect of a normal exercise.”

“The timing is notable and, of course, raises concerns that Russia could intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises in order potentially to attack Ukraine,” the official said.

The official said that changes to the Belarus constitution in a referendum next month could allow the Russian military presence to become permanent.

“These draft constitutional changes may indicate Belarus plans to allow both Russian conventional and nuclear forces to be stationed on its territory,” the official said.

That would represent a “challenge to European security that may require a response,” the official said.

Belarus also borders NATO-member Poland.

“Over time, Lukashenko has relied more and more on Russia for all kinds of support. And we know that he doesn't get that support for free,” the US official said.

“It's clear Russia is preying on Lukashenko's vulnerability and calling in a little bit of accumulated IOUs,” the official said.

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North Korea tested tactical guided missiles in fresh sign of evolving arsenal

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North Korea fired tactical guided missiles on Monday, state media KCNA said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of recent tests that highlighted its evolving missile programs amid stalled denuclearisation talks.

The missile test was the North's fourth in 2022, with two previous launches involving “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and another test on Friday using a pair of SRBMs fired from train cars.

The UN Security Council is likely to meet behind closed-doors on Thursday on the continued missile launches, diplomats said. The US, Britain, France, Ireland and Albania made the request on Tuesday for a Council discussion.

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South Korea's military said on Monday that North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from an airport in its capital, Pyongyang, which flew about 380 km (236 miles) to a maximum altitude of 42,000 meters (137,800 feet).

The Academy of Defence Science conducted a test of tactical guided missiles from the country's west, and they “precisely hit an island target” off the east coast, the official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

“The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system,” KCNA said.

It “confirmed the accuracy, security and efficiency of the operation of the weapon system under production.”

The unusually rapid sequence of launches has drawn US condemnation and a push for new UN sanctions while Pyongyang warns of stronger actions, raising the spectre of a return to the period of “fire and fury” threats in 2017.

US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim urged Pyongyang to “cease its unlawful and destabilising activities” and reopen dialogue, saying he was open to meeting “without preconditions,” the State Department said after a call with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

South Korea's defence ministry said on Tuesday that it takes all North Korean missile launches as a “direct and serious threat,” but its military is capable of detecting and intercepting them.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also called the North's tests “increasingly concerning” during a briefing, calling for all parties to return to talks to defuse tension and promote a “very verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

‘Show of force’

North Korea used Pyongyang's Sunan airport to test-fire the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) in 2017, with leader Kim Jong Un in attendance.

North Korea has not tested its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or nuclear weapons since 2017, as a flurry of diplomacy with Washington unfolded from 2018. But it began testing a range of new SRBM designs after denuclearisation talks stalled and slipped back into a standoff following a failed summit in 2019.

Kim did not attend the latest test.

A photo released by KCNA showed a missile rising into the sky above a cloud of dust, belching flame.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who teaches at Seoul's Kyungnam University, said North Korea appears to have fired KN-24 SRBMs, which were last tested in March 2020 and flew 410 km (255 miles) to a maximum altitude of 50,000 meters (164,042 feet).

The KN-24 resembles the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and is designed to evade missile defences and carry out precision strikes, he said.

“The North seems to have already deployed and begun mass production of the KN-24,” Kim said, referring to the KCNA report.

“But essentially, the test could be another show of force to underline their recent warning of action.”

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