Gov. Beshear said that a monstrous tornado may have killed at least 70 people in Kentucky and the death toll may exceed 100 across ten or more counties across the state, particularly in western Kentucky.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Beshear said at a Saturday morning briefing.
Gov. Beshear says this is the most significant tornado event in Kentucky history; death toll could end up being 70-100 people. @LEX18News— Mike Valente (@ValenteLEX18) December 11, 2021
He said a tornado was on the ground for about 200 miles in Kentucky and that it went through four states.
Gov. Beshear also said a collapse at a candle factory in Mayfield has resulted in "mass casualties" as about 110 people were in the factory when the tornado hit.
By late Saturday morning, officials had confirmed 18 deaths. Beshear said at least 10 people were dead in his state's Muhlenberg County and an undetermined number in and around the city of Bowling Green.
Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but KSP Trooper Sarah Burgess didn’t know how many. She said it could take a day and potentially longer to remove all of the rubble.
Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield's main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado, said Jeremy Creason, the city's fire chief and EMS director.
“We have been working tirelessly through the night,” he said. “We had to at times crawl over casualties to get to live victims to get them out.”
Kyana 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 the “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all.”
Campbellsville Mayor Diane Ford-Benningfield tells LEX 18's Nancy Cox recovery efforts are underway in the city. Many power lines are down and there's so much debris that it's dangerous to be outside at the moment.
The storms also swept through Bowling Green, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, tearing roofs off homes and flinging debris into roadways. A GM Corvette Assembly Plant and the nearby Corvette Museum sustained light damage. A semitrailer was overturned and pushed against a building just across the street.
Western Kentucky University called off commencement ceremonies that were planned for Saturday because the campus was without power.
Ronnie Ward, a Bowling Green police spokesman, said in a telephone interview that rescue efforts were hampered by debris strewn across roads. Ward said numerous apartment complexes in Bowling Green had major structural damage, and some factories had collapsed during the storms.
“Right now we’re focusing on the citizens, trying to get to everybody that needs us,” said Ward.
In Boyle County, Emergency Management Director Mike Wilder says there is major damage at the airport in Danville. The hangar and several small airplanes were destroyed. The county is also dealing with downed power lines, downed trees, and power outages.
"This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history and some areas have been hit in ways that are hard to put into words," said Gov. Beshear.
This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky’s history, with multiple counties impacted and a significant loss of life. I have declared a state of emergency and submitted a request to @POTUS for an immediate federal emergency declaration. https://t.co/KmMOl95t1N— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) December 11, 2021
Beshear says “we will have casualties in multiple counties.”— Karolina Buczek (@Karolina_Buczek) December 11, 2021
Beshear says emergency management believes there were four tornadoes that hit KY.
“Daybreak will bring more tough news.”
Kentucky Division of Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said that this weekend's storms could surpass the 1974 tornado outbreak as one of the deadliest in Kentucky's history.
"Our hearts go out to the families that are in peril and all of the Kentuckians who have lost their lives," said Dossett.
Shelter/safe spots:— Christiana Ford (@christianaford_) December 11, 2021
•middle part of the house
•small room or closet
•close all room doors
Gov. Beshear said they will go to the western part of the state later Saturday "as soon as it is safe to do so."
Gov. Beshear tells Today Show he and his family are still trying to get in touch with relatives in Dawson Springs, which was one of the places hit hard by tornadoes overnight. @LEX18News— Mike Valente (@ValenteLEX18) December 11, 2021
The Graves County Emergency Management Office told WPSD that Mayfield High School is opening up a shelter for people affected by the storm. Residents who can safely walk there are also being told they can go to Fire Station 1 on East Broadway Street.