January 22, 2022

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Multiple fatalities at the site of a collapsed Amazon warehouse outside Edwardsville, authorities say – STLtoday.com

8 min read

EDWARDSVILLE — Public safety authorities said there are “confirmed fatalities” at a partially collapsed Amazon facility at 3077 Gateway Commerce Center, which was damaged at 8:33 p.m. Friday as a wave of violent weather, including tornadoes, rolled through the St. Louis metropolitan area and elsewhere in the Midwest and South.

Police Chief Mike Fillback at a press conference early Saturday said there was “more than one fatality… at least two.”

He said authorities are still working to confirm how many people were at the facility when it was damaged. He said he believed the number was about 50.  

Next of kin are being notified. Search and rescue operations are continuing and heavy equipment operators are assisting. Rescue crews are still sorting through the rubble to determine if anyone was trapped inside.

“It’s still an active scene,” he said.

A wall about the length of a football field collapsed at the Amazon facility, as did the roof above it. The warehouse located in the Gateway Commerce Center is about five years old.

Fillback said about 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation.

Elsewhere, the broad storm system Friday night also caused significant damage at a candle factory in Kentucky, a nursing home in Arkansas, and numerous homes and buildings.

Three storm-related deaths were confirmed in Tennessee, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Two of the deaths occurred in Lake County, and the third was in Obion County — both in the northwestern corner of the state.

A tornado struck the Monette Manor nursing home in Arkansas on Friday night, killing one person and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told The Associated Press.

Five people had serious injuries, and a few others had minor ones, he said. The nursing home has 86 beds.

Day said another nursing home about 20 miles away in Truman was badly damaged but no injuries were reported. The residents were being evacuated because the building is unsafe.

Workers at a National Weather Service office had to take shelter as a tornado passed near their office in Weldon Spring, Missouri, about 30 miles west of St. Louis. One person died and two others were injured in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle, both just a few miles from the weather service office.

In Kentucky, several buildings collapsed during the severe weather that struck Mayfield, said Sarah Burgess, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police. 

Many people were feared dead at a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, where Gov. Andy Beshear called the situation “tragic” at a news conference Saturday morning.

“There were about 110 people in it at the time that the tornado hit it,” Beshear said. “We believe we’ll lose at least dozens of those individuals. It’s very hard, really tough, and we’re praying for each and every one of those families.”

In Bowling Green, Western Kentucky University said on Twitter that emergency crews were assessing significant storm damage and that no injuries were immediately reported. However, the school called off commencement ceremonies that were planned for Saturday because the campus was without power.

“It’s obvious we had major wind damage,” said Ronnie Ward, a Bowling Green police spokesman, in a telephone interview.

Rescue efforts in Bowling Green and elsewhere 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,” Ward said.

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

Our earlier story, posted Friday night:

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An Amazon warehouse partially collapsed near Pontoon Beach in Madison County, trapping employees inside, as suspected tornadoes and strong storms blew through the St. Louis region throughout the evening. There was widespread damage from the storms in multiple counties, including homes and other buildings destroyed, wires down and thousands of people without power.

Police and fire agencies from throughout the region responded to the area of the massive warehouse, which is situated outside of Edwardsville near Interstates 255 and 270 in a large commercial development. Multiple injuries were possible, and there were reports of perhaps 100 or more people trapped inside, although those numbers were not confirmed.

What was believed to be a large tornado had been reported in the Edwardsville area just after 8 p.m. The National Weather Service in St. Louis issued several reports of “radar-confirmed” tornadoes in the region. The weather service will begin conducting assessments within the next few days to determine the nature and intensity of the storms.

The Illinois Department of Transportation’s local office was reporting significant damage in the area of Interstate 270 and Illinois Route 111, where the Amazon fulfillment center was located, and urged drivers to avoid the area. There were long traffic backups on side roads leading up to the facility, and the Chain of Rocks Road just east of Interstate 255 was closed about midnight due to the emergency response, IDOT officials announced.

Amazon, which opened the facility several years ago, released a statement late Friday night, saying that “the safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now. We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when available.”

About 10:30 p.m., Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted that his “prayers are with the people of Edwardsville,” and offered to provide any needed state resources.

The storm damage wasn’t isolated to the Metro East. There were also reports of a house destroyed in Defiance, Missouri, and homes flattened in St. Charles County. Along Stub Road and Highway F, at least three people had been rescued from a debris field, New Melle fire officials said. One person had serious injuries, they said.

Farther down Highway F, a barn collapsed, trapping several horses inside. Firefighters from multiple agencies were frantically digging through the wreckage late Friday night.

Multiple horses were trapped in a St. Charles County barn that suffered damage as storms and possible tornadoes raked areas around the St. Louis region on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. Video by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Ameren was reporting thousands of people without power in the region around midnight. In Madison County, more than 11,600 customers were without power. That county accounted for about half of the nearly 22,000 total outages in Illinois.

More than 11,000 customers were without power in Missouri close to midnight. About 2,500 of those customers were in St. Charles County, and more than 1,600 were out in St. Louis County.

A tornado watch, meaning conditions are right for twisters to form, took effect Friday afternoon and remained in place through about 11 p.m. for a wide swath of counties, including the immediate St. Louis area. The watch covered dozens of counties throughout the region, even stretching into Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and multiple other states.

The watch was later upgraded to a warning — meaning a tornado had been spotted or indicated on radar — as the storm system steadily marched into the region, starting with outlying counties in Missouri and heading across the St. Louis region. The storms quickly moved northeast, and gained in intensity with Metro East counties in their path.

The gravest tornado risk initially was for counties to the north and south of the immediate St. Louis area, but strong storms with damaging winds and even hail were reported throughout much of the region. Winds of up to 70 mph had been forecast for Friday night, the weather service said.

By 11:30 p.m., the National Weather Service in St. Louis tweeted out the all-clear for tornado warnings in the St. Louis metro area, although it said that the storm system was still strong as it headed through regions to the north and south of St. Louis.

Matt Beitscher, a meteorologist with the St. Louis office, had warned early in the day that residents should stay alert for whatever the weather brought Friday night.

“A lot of folks like to turn off their alerts when they sleep,” Beitscher said, but it’s not a good idea when unsettled weather takes place in the evening and overnight hours.

It doesn’t help that many people let their guard down to severe weather outbreaks in late fall and as winter approaches. “While it’s uncommon, it’s not unheard of to have severe weather in December,” Beitscher said. 

In late October, at least five tornadoes touched down in Missouri and Illinois south of St. Louis, including two large twisters with peak wind speeds of about 150 mph.

Some homes and businesses were destroyed, trees were downed and power knocked out in and around Fredericktown and St. Mary in Missouri and also in Chester, Illinois.

The weather has been particularly topsy-turvy this week, with snow flurries sighted in some parts of the region on Tuesday, and then a steady rise in temperatures over the past several days. The forecast for the weekend calls for slightly cooler temperatures, followed by another warmup next week.

Buildings were flattened in areas west and east of St. Louis — from St. Charles County, Missouri to Edwardsville, Illinois — damaging houses…

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