MAYFIELD, Ky. — The death toll from Friday's tornadoes is expected to be lower than first feared.
A spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products, which operated the candle factory in Mayfield, told the Associated Press on Sunday that eight people were confirmed dead at the factory while eight were still confirmed missing. More than 90 people who were working at the time the massive tornado struck the Western Kentucky town have been located. This is a more encouraging estimate given than the previous estimate by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who reported 40 people were still unaccounted from the candle factory earlier during the weekend.
Beshear told the Associated Press he still expected deaths to be around 50 in the state. As of the most recent counts, 14 people are dead in four other states: Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.
Beshear said the tornado would likely break the record of the 1925 Tri-State tornado for length of travel on the ground. Friday's tornado traveled from Jonesboro, Ark., through Missouri and Tennessee, before crossing into Kentucky and ending near McDaniel, Ky. - around 230 miles. Beshear said the storm was on the ground for at least 200 miles in Kentucky.
The 1925 Tri-State tornado set records for the deadliest and longest tracked tornado in US history. Using historical data, the storm was later declared an EF-5 on the Fujita scale. The tornado traveled 219 miles across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana with it varying from 3/4 of a mile to a mile in width. At least 695 people were killed in the storm with 234 deaths in Murphysboro, Ill., a record for deaths in a single community from a tornado.
The National Weather Service has not yet released its findings on the storms, but a spokesperson said Sunday the damage surveyed so far indicates that it was at least an EF-3. The NWS defines an EF-3 tornado as severe, with winds of 136-165 mph.
An aerial survey conducted by the NWS showed the tornado's track was continuous from south of Case, Ky., in Fulton County all the way to at least Beaver Dam, Ky., in Ohio County when the crew turned around.
Beshear declared a state of emergency early on Saturday morning after the storms hit. President Joe Biden approved Beshear's request for an immediate federal emergency declaration. More than 300 members of the National Guard were mobilized to help communities that were hit. To alleviate the need for housing, state parks have opened to help families who have lost their homes. Beshear said they are trying to guarantee those families a two-week stay so that victims can turn their focus on their relatives, children and other needs instead of worrying about housing.
On Saturday, the governor announced the creation of a fund to help pay for aid and rebuilding efforts in communities. As of Sunday, Beshear said the fund had received 18,031 donations totaling over $2.3 million.