At Least 14 Employees Die on Job as Tornados Hit Swath of Midwest

14 Dec, 2021 Liz Carey

                               

Mayfield, KY (WorkersCompensation.com) – Officials believe eight employees of a candle factory in Kentucky and at least six employees of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, are dead, after a swath of tornados swept through four states Saturday morning. 

Officials said an estimated 110 employees were working in the candle factory, Mayfield Consumer Products, when tornadoes touched down in western Kentucky late Friday night. Initial reports indicated only 40 of those employees had been rescued by Saturday, but by Monday morning, Gov. Andy Beshear said eight employees had been listed as dead, with another 8 missing. 

“We’re gonna lose a lot of lives in that facility,” Beshear said. “I pray that there will be another rescue. I think the largest loss of life in this tornado event is and will be there.” 

At least 30 tornadoes were reported across six states: Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. 

Beshear said one of the tornadoes traveled as much as 200 miles. Officials with the National Weather Bureau said they would be investigating to see if the damage was caused by one single tornado, or several spawning from the same storm. 

In Illinois, at least six workers were killed when an Amazon warehouse collapsed. According to Edwardsville police chief Michael Fillback said the tornado caused major structural damage to the building. 

Officials said first responders don’t know how many people were inside the warehouse when it collapsed. At least 45 people made it out of the building, officials said, but the tornado struck during a shift change, making it hard to know for sure how many employees were in the building. 

Additionally, because the warehouse is where drivers come to drop off delivery vans and get into their cars to drive home, any number of people could have been in the area, officials said. 

“For numerous reasons, the warehouse doesn't have a specific count of how many employees were in the building at the time that the storm hit, so we're unable to determine how many may be missing still,” Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said. 

Whiteford said the warehouse walls “collapsed inward” and “the roof of the building collapsed downward so most of the weight of the building landed centrally into the building. 

“These walls are made out of 11-inch-thick concrete and they're about 40 feet tall, so a lot of weight on that came down,” he said. 

Additionally, the fire department faced multiple challenges in their rescue efforts. Downed and loose active power lines combined with a natural gas leak, and broken water mains leaking water into the building. 

Whiteford told CNN that he couldn’t confirm whether or not the warehouse had a designated shelter, as required by law. 

An Amazon spokesperson said the company was assessing the situation and damage at the facility. 

"We're deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Illinois. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm," Amazon said in a statement. 

Many employees reported to Reuters that they were told to shelter in bathrooms by their managers after receiving emergency alerts on their mobile phones. 

However, Amazon told Reuters the employees were directed to an assembly area at the front of the building near a restroom. Tornado warnings were issued to the warehouse at 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m., the company told Reuters, and the tornado struck the building at 8:27 p.m. 

"Our team worked quickly to ensure as many employees and partners could get to the designated Shelter in Place," the company said in a statement. "We thank them for everything they were able to do." 

In Kentucky, one of the candle factory workers captured the aftermath of the storm on her phone and posted it to Facebook Live. Kyanna Parson-Perez said she started streaming the video after not being able to reach 9-1-1. In the mostly blacked-out video, she captured video and audio of her and her coworkers trapped under what was left of the building.

 Parsons-Perez said she couldn’t move her legs because debris had fallen on her. When a rescuer came to help her she asked if they could move what was on her legs because she could no longer feel them. The rescuer told her there was about five feet of rubble on top of her, she said. 

“They told us not to move, because if we move we may cause the stuff to fall more,” Parsons-Perez said. 

Throughout the video, she comforts her coworkers, even distracting them to calm them down. 

“We’re going be fine, y’all,” she said in the video. “Listen everyone, we’re going to be out tomorrow. It’s going to be my birthday in two hours. Are y’all going to sing Happy Birthday to me?” 

Parsons-Perez told the Today show on Saturday morning that being trapped in the destruction for nearly two hours was a horrifying experience. 

"It was absolutely the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced in my life," she said. "I did not think I was gonna make it [out alive] at all." 

Officials estimated that in total, more than 60 people were dead in the five states, with the possibility of more victims in the coming days.

 


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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