Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday the number of people killed by a deadly series of tornadoes that tore through Western Kentucky Friday and Saturday is now above 80 and will likely climb to 100.
“Right now, we are hoping for miracles,” Beshear said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Beshear made a host of national media appearances on Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after at least four tornadoes flattened entire towns in Western Kentucky, killing at least 80 and knocking out power to more than 77,000 customers.
“This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had. I think it’s going to be the longest and deadliest tornado event in U.S. history. We know that one of these tornadoes was on the ground over 227 miles,” Beshear said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. That tornado was on the ground in Kentucky for over 200 miles, Beshear said.
Some of the confirmed casualties were children, Beshear said on CBS “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan.”
“I know we’ve lost a number of kids. I know we lost a three-year-old in Graves County, too. I think we lost maybe a five-year-old in the Muhlenberg County. Death and this… tornado didn’t discriminate against anybody in its path, even if they were trying to be safe again, just… like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
Getting an accurate count of the number of people who have been killed will take time because search and rescue efforts are ongoing, he said on CNN.
“It’s going to take us time,” Beshear said. “I mean, you think you would go door to door to check on people and see if they’re OK. There are no doors. The question is, is somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures? I mean, it is devastating.”
FEMA chief says Kentucky tornadoes ‘unprecedented’
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanna Criswell told CNN’s “State of the Union” FEMA search and rescue teams were in Kentucky and helping with recovery efforts.
“They arrived through the day yesterday. They’re going to be able to assist the localities with their ongoing rescue efforts. And so I think that we’re — there is still hope, and we should continue to try to find as many people as we can.”
Criswell said early December tornadoes are not uncommon. But it was the strength of the tornadoes that leveled parts of Kentucky that was unusual.
“I don’t think we have ever seen one this late in the year. But it’s also historic. Even the severity and the amount of time this tornado or these tornadoes spent on the ground is unprecedented,” Criswell said.
When asked if climate change was a factor in the storms, Criswell said “This is going to be our new normal. And the effects that we’re seeing from climate change are the crisis of our generation.”
Death count continues to rise
Beshear said Saturday at least 10 counties could report casualties.
A 42-year-old woman was killed in Taylor County, Taylor County officials said.
Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby said his office was working 12 cases related to the severe weather. Kirby said Sunday several were children.
He said the FBI was helping to make identifications.
“There are some children…there were several,” said Kirby. “It is a broad range of ages.”
All but one death occurred in the Russellville Road area.
Warren County emergency management officials also said Saturday 500 homes and 100 businesses have been damaged or destroyed, including three or four large factories.
Eleven people died in Muhlenberg County, Coroner Larry Vincent said. One of the people killed in Mulhenberg County was Brian Crick, a district judge for McLean and Muhlenberg counties. Beshear told NPR’s “Weekend Edition” on Sunday two of the victims were his uncle’s first cousins.
Caldwell County Coroner DeWayne Trafford said in a radio interview that the county had at least four deaths, including a husband and wife.
He said the deaths were all in the Dawson Road area of the county in a 3 1/2 to 4-mile radius.
“This is the worst devastation I’ve seen in my life,” he told WKDZ radio.
Graves County corrections officer killed
In Graves County, 40 of the 110 people working at a candle factory have been accounted for on Saturday. Beshear said Saturday it was highly unlikely the 70 others who were working at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield would be rescued.
Relatives of the 70 employees were asked to come to a church in Mayfield on Sunday with a photo of the missing relative and any additional medical information, according to a Facebook post from Graves County Emergency Management. Beshear said the last successful rescue at the factory was at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. “It would be a miracle” if other live survivors were pulled from the factory, Beshear said Sunday.
“It’s 15-feet plus of steel,” Beshear said of the site of the Mayfield Consumer Products factory. Cars in the parking lot are also now on top of that pile of rubble.
Several inmates from the Graves County Jail and Restricted Custody Center were working at the plant at the time it was destroyed. All of those inmates survived. A corrections officer who was at the candle plant has died. The jail identified the officer as Robert Daniels in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“He did his job honorably and professionally until the very end. We love you and pray for your family,” the Facebook post said.
An official total of the number of killed in Graves County has not been released. Phone calls and emails to Graves County officials have not been returned as much of the area is without power.
Beshear said Sunday the state had opened 11 shelters but only six remain open ” because people have opened their homes.”
Western Kentucky hospitals have been able to manage the surge in the number of people seeking treatment, he said on NPR.
“Local hospitals have received calls from all over Kentucky offering help,” Beshear said. “We have been able to move people who need a higher level of care to other hospitals.”
Power outages continue
Crews were able to restore power to thousands of homes and businesses on Sunday.
More than 75,000 customers in Western Kentucky were still without power on Sunday morning.
In total 77, 246 households and businesses were without power as of 9:30 a.m. Sunday, according to a web site that tracks power outages.
However, by 2 p.m. the number of customers without power had dropped to 52,215. Power had been largely been restored in Warren County, one of the counties hit hard by the storm, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks power outages.
In hard-hit Graves County, 5,288 structures were still without power at 2 p.m., nearly half of the power customers tracked in that county.
National Weather Services still surveying damage, data
Meanwhile, National Weather Services survey teams were still in the process of gathering additional information about the tornadoes that hit Kentucky.
One tornado in Western Kentucky had a historic long track and was categorized as being at least an EF-3 tornado. The maximum width of the storm was at least three-fourths of a mile, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service will be gathering data to look at wind speeds and to assess storm strength.
The National Weather Services said winds reached 155 miles per hour in Bowling Green, 115 miles per hour in Hardyville and 105 miles per hour near Falls of Rough. The tornado in Bowling Green was categorized as an EF-3.
The weather service said a survey team in Taylor County confirms at least EF-2 torando damage, with estimated wind speeds of 120 mile per hour near Saloma.
Beshear is expected to provide updates on search and rescue efforts at a press conference at 3:15 p.m. EST in Graves County.