In Kentucky, tallying the grim scale of destruction

A US national flag waves among tornado damage after extreme weather hit the region in Bowling Green Kentucky, December 11, 2021. Photograph:( AFP )

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Sunday was a day of wrenching discoveries across the middle of the country, where an outbreak of tornadoes Friday night left a deep scar of devastation.

 Darryl Johnson didn’t know what his sister did at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory or why she worked nights; he knew only that her husband dropped her off Friday evening and that they never heard from her again.

He stood in a gravel lot next to the giant ruin of metal and wood, which just days ago was the candle factory where his sister, Janine Johnson-Williams, had clocked in for her shift. The factory where he works, 45 miles up the road, shut down when the storms were approaching, Johnson said. He could not find anyone in Mayfield to tell him anything.

Late Sunday evening, Johnson finally got word. His sister was dead.

Sunday was a day of wrenching discoveries across the middle of the country, where an outbreak of tornadoes Friday night left a deep scar of devastation. But as work crews dug through ruins and small-town coroners counted the dead Sunday, there was at least a glimmer of hope that the death toll may not end up being as enormous as initially feared.

On Sunday evening, Troy Propes, CEO of Mayfield Consumer Products, which runs the candle factory that was demolished by the tornado and which many dread may account for the largest number of deaths in the storm, said in an interview that only eight people had been confirmed dead at the factory and another six remained missing.

Bob Ferguson, a company spokesperson, said that of the roughly 110 workers who were on the late shift at the factory Friday night, more than 90 employees had been accounted for.

Still, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters Sunday that the state had not confirmed those figures and said that search operations were still underway at the site.

“There have been, I think, multiple bodies,” Beshear said. “The wreckage is extensive.”

The death toll from the tornado swarm includes people who had been killed in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee, but the greatest loss of life was unquestionably in Kentucky, where Beshear said that at least four counties had tolls in the double digits. A dozen people were killed in Warren County, several of them children; in Muhlenberg County, there were 11 victims, all in the tiny town of Bremen. One was 4 months old.

“I don’t think we’ll have seen damage at this scale, ever,” Beshear said.

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