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Gov. Beshear: Death toll from tornadoes expected to be over 100

Midwest Tornadoes
Posted at 1:17 AM, Dec 11, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear said upwards of 70 people have likely been killed and fatalities are likely to rise after four tornadoes struck multiple counties in the western part of the state.

During a 4 p.m. press conference on Saturday, Beshear said as crews continue to work to rescue victims of the tornadoes, he still expects there will be more than 100 people determined dead.

"The devastation is unlike anything I have seen in my life and I have trouble putting it into words," said Beshear.

Beshear said a candle factory was hit by a tornado in Mayfield, Ky., causing a roof collapse and numerous fatalities. The governor estimated that around 110 people were inside the factory when the tornado hit the area.

So far, 40 people have been rescued from the facility alive, but Beshear said he believes it will be a miracle if, by Saturday evening, anyone else is found alive in the debris. The facility is covered in roughly 15 feet of collapsed metal, he said, and barrels of corrosive chemicals were also stored on the site.

The tornado — which originated in Arkansas — was on the ground for 227 miles in the state of Kentucky. Beshear said the storm was the longest tornado track on record and the largest in Kentucky's history.

"This was four different tornadoes, and I'm told we're actually going to see a little bit more on that, that hit us, including one that touched down in Arkansas and then stayed on the ground for 227 straight miles, which we believe is likely the longest in U.S. history," said Beshear. "Folks, 200 of those miles were in Kentucky. We're ground zero and I know this community is hit. It's been hit really hard."

The storms also swept through Bowling Green, Ky., damaging homes and causing the death of a Western Kentucky University student who lived off-campus. The school canceled commencement ceremonies, initially planned for Saturday, as the was campus also without power.

Watch: Beshear's evening address on damage in Bowling Green

Beshear declared a state of emergency in Kentucky and submitted a request to President Joe Biden for an immediate federal emergency declaration, which was quickly approved. Federal declaration allows the state access to additional resources and funding for cleanup and recovery efforts.

"I've talked today directly to the President twice, the head of Homeland Security, the secretary as well as the director of FEMA, who is going to be in Kentucky tomorrow," said Beshear. "They have all pledged whatever we need and I plan to ask."

The Kentucky state of emergency allowed Beshear to activate over 180 members of the National Guard and the Kentucky State Police, in addition to utilizing armories as shelters for Kentuckians in need.

Watch: Beshear's address on storm damage from Saturday morning

Michael Dossett, of Kentucky Emergency Management, said the night's storms could surpass the 1974 super outbreak as the deadliest tornado event in the history of the state.

"It appears this was a quad-state event, emerging from the same system that originated in Arkansas," Dossett said.

Dossett said the tornado that hit multiple counties in Kentucky path may break the record of the 1925 Tri-State tornado.

Beshear urged Kentuckians who are in hard-hit regions, if they are safe and have power, to stay off the roads so first responders can move freely to respond to emergencies. He also encouraged residents to donate blood; the state has seen a shortage of supply through the COVID-19 pandemic and Beshear said he anticipates the donations will be needed for those who are injured.

For those searching for a way to help victims of the tornadoes, Beshear has set up a single fund to which anyone in the country can donate. Funds in the account are solely intended to be used to help on-the-ground efforts to help families hardest hit by the storms.