Kentucky tornadoes: At least 74 dead, dozens unaccounted for

The death toll from weekend tornadoes and storms that hit western Kentucky has climbed to 74, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday, with the ages of the victims ranging from 5 months to 86 years.

What they’re saying: “We expect this death toll to grow,” Beshear said at an afternoon news briefing. Earlier Monday, he warned that with “this amount of damage and rubble, it may be a week or even more before we have a final count on the number of lost lives.”

  • At least six people who died were under the age of 18 years, Beshear said.
  • He added that more than 100 people remain unaccounted for, but rescue crews and authorities are working to find more information on those individuals.
  • “The people of western Kentucky have gone through an unspeakable trauma,” Beshear said Monday morning. “It’s hard to understand how something like this or why something like this happens. It is just awful.”

The big picture: President Biden declared a major disaster in Kentucky in response to the deadly tornadoes that struck there and in at least five other states over Friday night into Saturday.

  • Sunday’s disaster declaration will assist with responses such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs. Biden also ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts in areas of Kentucky “affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, flooding, and tornadoes beginning on December 10, 2021, and continuing,” according to the order.
  • Biden will visit the state on Wednesday, the White House said.

Tornadoes were also reported in Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, but Kentucky was particularly badly hit.

  • More than 26,000 customers were still without power in Kentucky Monday afternoon, per the tracking service poweroutage.us. Officials warned it could be weeks or months before service is restored to the hardest-hit areas.
  • Beshear had warned the death toll from the tornadoes could exceed 100 following concerns that 110 people were in a candle manufacturing factory when a tornado hit.
  • A spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., told news outlets later Sunday that eight people were confirmed dead and eight others were missing, but the rest were accounted for. Beshear said Monday that officials are working to confirm the company’s report.

Meanwhile, a tornado that struck an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday night resulted in the deaths of at least six people after a large part of the building collapsed, per the New York Times.

  • Four other storm-related deaths were reported in Tennessee and at least two people were killed in Arkansas, the NYT notes.

What to watch: The National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., issued a statement Sunday saying the damage was still being assessed. But the damage in several places was at least an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures the intensity of tornadoes.

  • That means there’s been severe damage from estimated wind speeds of at least 136-165 mph.
  • The NWS said initial estimates for the area from Cayce, Ky., to around Beaver Dam, Ky., were that it was hit by an EF-4 tornado — meaning there’s “devastating damage.”