Flags in Kentucky were lowered to half-staff at sunrise Tuesday to honor the dozens killed after tornadoes ripped through several states over the weekend, picking up homes and leveling entire towns.
More than 100 people in the state were still unaccounted for, and 74 were confirmed dead, Gov. Andy Beshear said in an afternoon update before surveying storm damage in Muhlenberg County, where the governor himself lost relatives.
Twelve of the people killed were children.
“The age range has gotten even harder,” Beshear said of those who had died. “Some not even getting an opportunity to experience this life.”
The youngest victim was 2 months old, while the oldest was 98, Beshear said.
He said that eight of the dead in the county remain unidentified, adding, “I still expect that we will find more bodies — there is just so much destruction.”
A portion of a growing state fund would be used to pay for funerals. Donations to the fund have reached almost $10 million.
At least eight of those who died in Kentucky were killed after the roof of a candle factory in Mayfield collapsed.
Beshear said the death toll from the factory, while devastating, was “a miracle.”
“If you saw it in person,” Beshear said, “the level of absolute destruction in one place is hard to describe.”
Five candle factory workers told NBC News Monday that supervisors warned employees that they would be fired if they left their shifts early to seek shelter from the coming storm. Company officials denied the allegations.
The candle factory was just one of many structures lost in Mayfield — nearly the entire town was flattened.
Search and rescue continued Tuesday as did the clearing of massive amounts of debris, including dead livestock.
“I’m going to tell you, what feels pretty good, to not just be pushing this stuff out of the way but to be loading it up and taking it out of town,” Beshear said, adding the process was “therapeutic.”
State parks were open to house those who have lost their homes.
Kentucky Director of Emergency Management Michael Dossett said thousands of homes were gone and even more were damaged enough to make them unlivable.
“Pictures and video do not do it justice. Being on the ground will take your breath away,” said Dossett, who was set to retire but has vowed to put it off as the state recovers.
A toy drive has been started by the governor’s wife, Britainy Beshear, as families who have lost everything prepare to celebrate Christmas.
If the generosity of neighbors has been any indication, “those parents are going to have a hard time next year after kids see what’s coming in this year,” Beshear said.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Kentucky on Sunday, providing federal aid in at least eight counties after the storm destroyed homes and left thousands of customers without power. Beshear said the declaration was the fastest he had ever seen.
Biden plans to travel to the state Wednesday for a storm briefing and to survey damage in Mayfield and Dawson Springs, half of which was leveled.
While Kentucky was the hardest-hit state, the devastation tore beyond its borders. Several people were killed in Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas.
Meteorologists have said climate change most likely made the tornado outbreak worse by altering or amplifying the ingredients that produced the outbreak, such as higher-than-average December temperatures.
At least six people were confirmed dead after part of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, collapsed.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Amazon said it donated $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation and are providing relief supplies to the community.
“We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville,” Amazon said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the collapse, the agency said. Amazon spokespeople said Monday that the inquiry is welcome, adding that the structure was built according to code.
Amazon on Tuesday thanked its team at the Illinois last-mile delivery station, saying they tried to get as many employees as possible to the designated shelter location.