More than 1,000 houses have been obliterated in Kentucky alone, Gov. Andy Beshear said.
“Our state was hit by at least four tornadoes. One stayed on the ground in Kentucky for at least 200 miles, devastating anything in its path,” Beshear said Monday.
At least 64 people were killed, and 105 remain unaccounted for, Beshear said.
“Thousands of homes are damaged, if not entirely destroyed,” he said.
“And it may be weeks before we have final counts on both deaths and levels of destruction.”
He said the mammoth tornado annihilated houses unlike any other in state history.
“When this tornado hit, it didn’t just take a roof off, which is what we’ve seen in the past,” Beshear said.
“It exploded the whole house. People, animals, the rest — just gone.”
Family businesses are demolished
Just five hours before a tornado shredded the city of Mayfield, children had packed Gibson’s Pharmacy for the annual visit from Santa Claus.
“The lobby was fully of families. My kids were in there,” said Sam Brown, whose father purchased the pharmacy 38 years ago — the year Brown was born.
“That’s actually the very last video I have of the property, a lobby full of kids sitting on Santa’s lap.”
Brown and his family survived the tornado. But he said the pharmacy was reduced to “a war scene. It’s just totally demolished.”
The family, however, is still committed to getting medicine to neighbors quickly.
“We have another location open on the other side of town. We’re wanting to be up and running today … to service the community the best we can. We’ve been working nonstop to get it going.”
Strangers nationwide step up and help
“Help keeps pouring in from all over the county. Thank you to everyone. We feel your love here,” the governor said.
He said the fund’s first expenditure will be to provide $5,000 for burial expenses to families who lost loved ones during the storm. The state has requested funeral homes not charge the families of the storm victims beyond that.
Beshear said no families will have to apply, as the state will be reaching out directly.
The American Red Cross has eight shelters set up in Kentucky and is providing relief to nearly 200 people, the group’s Kentucky CEO Steven Cunanan said Sunday.
Cunanan said the Red Cross’ main goal is to provide food and care to those forced out of their homes by the tornadoes. “We have to help them get their lives back and help them get to a sense of normalcy again,” he said.
The emotional toll of having your life upended by a natural disaster is also an important consideration, Cunanan said. “I’ve seen that on every disaster I’ve been on. They’re shell-shocked. They don’t know where to turn.”
Several state parks have also been opened to help house families who lost everything, Beshear said Sunday.
“We are taking them in,” Beshear said. “We are trying to guarantee everyone a two-week stay, so they’re not worried about tomorrow. They can worry about finding their relatives, making sure their kids have enough to eat.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is on the ground assisting after President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration over the weekend. The move allows for grants and low-cost loans to be put toward housing and home repairs in affected areas.
When rescuers can’t go door-to-door because ‘there are no doors’
In parts of Kentucky, it’s impossible to figure out where porches and front doors once stood.
“I’ve got towns that are gone — that are just, I mean, gone,” the governor told CNN on Sunday. “You go door-to-door to check on people and see if they’re okay. There are no doors … it’s devastating.”
About 75% of the town of Dawson Springs has been wiped out, Mayor Chris Smiley said.
“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Smiley, who’s lived in small Kentucky town for 63 years. “It’s just devastating.”
More than 100 people have been reported missing in Dawson Springs, said Nick Bailey, director of emergency management in Hopkins County. But officials hope most of them left town and just haven’t checked in yet.
But “hundreds and hundreds” in the town of nearly 3,000 people no longer have a place to live, Bailey said.
“Almost an entire city has been displaced at this point,” he said.
And those whose homes are still standing probably won’t have power for up to a month, Bailey said.
50 tornadoes in 8 states
While Kentucky may have suffered the most extensive damage, at least 50 tornadoes were reported in seven other states over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
As of Sunday, five EF-3 tornadoes were identified in Defiance, Missouri; Edwardsville, Illinois; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Saloma, Kentucky; and a swath of Kentucky between Cayce and Beaver Creek.
In Illinois, at least six people died when an Amazon warehouse collapsed in Edwardsville, Fire Chief James Whiteford said.
Those six victims ranged from 26 to 62 years old, the Edwardsville Police Department said.
One of the victims was identified as Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old US Navy veteran. He had worked at Amazon for just over a year as a maintenance mechanic, his mother Carla Cope said.
The young man’s father also worked at the facility in the same position.
“Had (Clay) not been there, my husband would have,” Carla Cope said.
An Amazon representative said a tornado warning siren sounded 11 minutes before the storm’s arrival.
She said employees sheltered in two unspecified safe areas. Nantel said dispatchers also contacted Amazon delivery drivers in the area and told them to shelter in place.
In Arkansas, the storm struck a Dollar General store in Leachville and killed assistant manager June Pennington, Misssissippi County spokesman Tom Henry said.
In the nearby city of Monette, at least one person was killed at a nursing home damaged by a tornado, Mayor Bob Blankenship said.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said it was a “miracle” only one person died at the nursing home.
“As I went to that facility, it was like heaven sucked up the roof and all the contents of it,” he said.
“And it’s just a miracle with 67 residents that we only lost one there. And that’s because of the heroic efforts by the staff and also the fact that we had 20 minutes of warning.”
Officials confirmed two storm-related deaths in Missouri, including a woman killed at home in St. Charles County and a young child killed at home in Pemiscot County, the governor said.
Tennessee reported four weather-related deaths. Two were in Lake County, one in Obion County and one in Shelby County, Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Dean Flener said.
More severe weather may be on the way
As officials focus on the immediate needs of tornado victims, forecasters are keeping an eye on the possibility of more severe weather in the region.
While it’s still early, some areas impacted by the tornadoes might see the same type of weather pattern this week, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.
That could include warming temperatures followed by another possible risk of severe weather by the weekend
CNN’s Gregory Lemos, Jason Hanna, Ashley Killough, Laura Studley, Kiely Westhoff, Susannah Cullinane, Eric Levenson and Amir Vera contributed to this report.