Desperate search and rescue efforts continued Sunday morning as the extent of the damage from a catastrophic series of tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky and other states became clear.
At least 29 people died after devastating twisters destroyed a candle factory in Kentucky, battered a nursing home in Arkansas, levelled an Amazon distribution center in Illinois, and wreaked havoc in Tennessee and Missouri, according to an NBC News tally. That figure is expected to rise as clean-up efforts continue.
In Kentucky alone, 15 people were confirmed dead by late Saturday, including a 3-year-old child in Graves County.
Gov. Andy Beshear said the tornado event that ripped through the Bluegrass State was the deadliest one to ever hit Kentucky and estimated between 70 to 100 people may have been killed.
“There’s not a camera lens big enough to show the path of absolute destruction. People have lost everything,” Beshear told Chuck Todd on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“We’re talking in the rescue effort of going door to door — there aren’t doors,” he said.
With his voice cracking slightly, he added: “We are resilient and we will rebuild.”
Kentucky State Police found 12 dead in the city of Bremen, Trooper Matt Sudduth confirmed Sunday morning. Search and rescue crews are still working to get through the debris, with teams from other parts of the state coming in Sunday to offer relief to those who have yet to get a break.
“The Kentucky State Police is working with multiple other agencies in efforts to preserve as much life as possible,” Sudduth said. “The cold temperatures last night are concerning, but efforts continue. The damage being so widespread, it just takes time.”
In Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 and one of the hardest hit communities, residents shared devastating images showing decimated homes and trees ripped from the ground. Twisted metal, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets.
The “town is gone,” Mayfield’s Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan, told NBC’s “Nightly News,” after authorities said the town’s police and fire stations were also destroyed.
“We knew it was bad, but not till the sun started coming up, did we look at it and saw matchsticks,” she said. “Our hearts are broken,” she added.
Crews continued to hunt for survivors in the wreckage of the town’s candle factory, where 110 people were working overnight Friday when the storm hit.
By Sunday morning, 8 people had died with another 36 still unaccounted for, sources with knowledge told NBC News.
“We had to, at times, crawl over casualties to get to live victims,” Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and EMS director, told the Associated Press.
Daryl Johnson said his sister Janine Johnson was working inside the factory when the tornado hit. He had been trying to reach her since then.
“I’m prepared for the worst,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best, but I’m preparing for the worst.”
Kyanna Parsons-Perez, who turned 40 on Saturday, said she was trapped under the debris for at least 2 hours before she was eventually pulled out by rescue teams.
“I think the lights went out, and then we did a rock, rock, rock… boom, and everything fell down on us,” she said.
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Her colleague Jessaundra Jackson was not at the factory when the tornado hit, but came back early the next day to help crews pull people out.
“I could hear people screaming for help, but you can’t see them,” said Jackson, 33. “You couldn’t see them… you can just hear them.”
In Illinois, at least six people were killed after a 100-foot portion of a wall partially collapsed at an Amazon facility in the city of Edwardsville, authorities said.
Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos called the news “tragic” in a tweet Saturday. “We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there,” he added.
Elsewhere four people died in Tennessee and two were killed in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed. Another two people lost their lives in Missouri.
Kathy Park, Mohammed Syed, Associated Press and Kate Snow contributed.