At least six people were killed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois after a direct hit from a tornado caused a major portion of the building to collapse on Friday night, officials said.
Forty-five people were confirmed to have made it out the building, James Whiteford, the fire chief in Edwardsville, Ill., said at a news conference on Saturday. The authorities said they did not know how many people were inside the warehouse when the storm hit, so they did not know how many more people they were looking for.
Edwardsville sits about 25 miles east of St. Louis, and the Amazon building is in a distribution hub on the west side of town. When the tornado swept through around 8:35 p.m., it caused the walls of the building to fall inward and the roof to collapse, Chief Whiteford said, adding that the walls were about 40 feet tall and made of 11-inch-thick concrete.
“At this point we have transitioned to search and recovery,” the chief said. “We don’t expect that anyone could be surviving at this point.” He said that search efforts would continue for the next three days during daylight hours.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said that he had spoken with President Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that he had also spoken to an official from Amazon.
Mr. Pritzker said he urged the company “to provide every assistance to this community, which they have said they intend to do.”
Alonzo Harris, an Amazon delivery driver, finished his route on Friday night and pulled into the warehouse when an alarm started to sound from his work phone. A colleague was running around and yelling at drivers that this was not a drill, he said. They needed to get out of their vehicles and seek shelter, he recalled her yelling.
“She put her own self at risk,” said Mr. Harris, a 44-year-old St. Louis resident who has worked at Amazon since September. “She saved my life.”
Moments after Mr. Harris entered the shelter, there was a “loud roaring noise” and the building started to shake, he said.
“I felt like the floor was coming off the ground,” he said. “I felt the wind blowing and saw debris flying everywhere, and people started screaming and hollering and the lights went out.”
Mr. Harris likened the sensation to earthquakes in California, where he grew up. “When the ground was shaking, that’s what it felt like,” he said. “I’m not afraid of nothing, but that was scary.”
On Saturday morning, workers appeared to be using a crane to clear wreckage from the site. Heavy machinery was brought in to move the collapsed walls, and rescue teams were checking inside vehicles that had been crushed by the walls.
“We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Ill.,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement on Saturday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones and everyone impacted by the tornado.”
Amazon opened two warehouses in Edwardsville in 2016, employing about 2,200 people, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017.
When Amazon opened the facilities, “it put us on the map,” Walter Williams, the economic development coordinator for Madison County, which includes Edwardsville, said on Saturday. “When more people saw Amazon here, they started saying, ‘We need to look there.’”