Biden declares emergency, promises aid for tornado-ravaged Kentucky

Walls sit on crushed vehicles at the Amazon Hub in Edwardsville, Ill., on Saturday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Dec. 11 (UPI) — President Joe Biden Saturday declared an emergency in Kentucky and ordered federal assistance to supplement the state and local response in recovery efforts after storms killed as many as 70.

Tornadoes, severe storms, straight-line winds and flooding rocked Kentucky and the Midwest late Friday and early Saturday where dozens remained missing.

Biden ordered the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in several Kentucky counties and said he stood “ready to do the same for the governors of other states.”

The president told reporters Saturday he will ask Congress to approve the necessary funding, calling the devastation “profound” and a “tragedy” which is “likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.”

“We still don’t know how many lives were lost or the full extent of the damage,” he said. “I say to all the victims, you’re in our prayers, and to the first responders and emergency personnel, this is the right thing to do at the right time. We’re going to get through this.”

The president spoke with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear along with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee about their storm damage and to offer assistance.

Beshear, at a late afternoon news conference, offered a dire assessment of the situation at a candle manufacturing factory in Mayfield, Ky., that was destroyed on Friday night. Officials said 70 people remained missing at the facility, and the governor admitted he was not optimistic after touring the devastation.

“One hundred 10 people working in it at the time the storm hit, they rescued 40,” he said. “At least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals were there. It’ll be a miracle if anybody else is found alive.”

The governor, who had earlier declared a state of emergency and activated the Kentucky National Guard, called the destruction in the southwest portion of the state “the worst, most devastating, most deadly tornado event in Kentucky’s history.”

It was part of a string of deadly storms that stretched from Texas to Indiana Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving damaged buildings, overturned vehicles and downed powerlines in its wake.

Tornadoes also killed several more after an Amazon warehouse facility collapsed in Edwardsville, Ill. The Pontoon Beach Police Department said about 30 workers were rescued from the building after it was damaged.

“Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted. This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners,” Amazon said, according to KMOV-TV.

The tornado outbreak across the Midwest and South after nightfall Friday caused a wide range of damage from Texas to Indiana, affecting some 16 million people across nine states, according to AccuWeather.

The storm was blamed for power outages Saturday morning, including more than 132,000 in Tennessee, 67,000 in Kentucky and another 61,000 in Indiana, according to Power Outage.us.

One person died after another tornado damaged a nursing home in the Jonesboro, Ark., area. Craighead County officials said five people were seriously injured and at least 20 trapped at the Monette Nursing Home.

Several semi-trailer trucks were overturned on Interstate 55 near Caruthersville, Mo., from a tornado while another death was reported in Leachville, Ark., after a twister heavily damaged several buildings.

Twisted metal and chunks of concrete crushing vehicles are all that is left of the Amazon Hub in Edwardsville, Ill. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

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