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

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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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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