The death toll from tornadoes that struck five states in the central and southern United States on Friday night is expected to exceed one hundred, and the material damage is catastrophic.
US President Joe Biden spoke of “a series of tornadoes among the worst” in US history and an “untold tragedy”, while declaring Kentucky a state of emergency.
The tornadoes hit Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. But the biggest tragedy occurred in Kentucky.
The governor of this US state, Andy Besiar, said that the tornadoes that occurred in Kentucky are the most destructive in its history.
“Disasters are not comparable to anything else I have seen in my life, I find it difficult to put it into words,” he told a news conference. “It is very possible that more than 100 people were killed here in Kentucky.”
Besiar pointed out that 189 members of the National Guard have been deployed to assist in the repair work of the damages, while he asked the citizens to donate blood for the wounded.
Meanwhile, search and rescue operations are concentrated in Mayfield, a city on the border of Kentucky with Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.
Videos and photos posted on social media show images of utter devastation: hundreds of leveled buildings in Mayfield, parked cars covered in rubble, uprooted trees.
A candle factory in the city, which housed about 110 people, was destroyed and all that was left, according to Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Crison, was “a pile of metal and steel and machinery.” He added that rescuers had to “crawl over the dead to reach survivors”.
Workers at the factory were trapped when their roof collapsed due to strong winds. Dozens of people are still missing, and since the morning no one has been pulled alive from the rubble, raising fears of a heavy toll.
Besiar commented that it would be a “miracle” if other survivors were found.
Like a bomb
“It was like a bomb exploding in our neighborhood,” said Alex Goodman, a Mayfield resident.
Dozens of buildings in the city have broken windows, metals are lying on the streets, vehicles have been overturned, trees and bricks are scattered everywhere.
In a downtown parking lot, volunteers were collecting basic necessities for the victims: warm clothes, baby diapers and water bottles, as both the water supply and the electricity supply were damaged.
In much of the central and southern United States, Friday night was scary.
In Illinois, six people were killed when part of the roof of a warehouse of the e-commerce company Amazon collapsed, said the chief of the fire department in Edwardsville, James Whiteford.
At least 45 workers managed to escape, while Whiteford pointed out that the search for any other survivors in the rubble has stopped, as they are now looking only for the dead.
“Our hearts are broken by the loss of our colleagues there and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and relatives,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote on Twitter.
A total of about 100 people worked the night shift at the warehouse to prepare Christmas orders.
Four people have been found dead in Tennessee, two people were killed in Arkansas and at least one in Missouri.
Extreme weather conditions
US television recorded the passage of about 30 tornadoes that hit the US.
One of them traveled more than 400 kilometers, according to the US Meteorological Service, while tornadoes usually cover a distance of about 6 kilometers on average.
These extreme weather events are caused at this time of year mainly due to high temperatures and humidity, explained Victor Gensini, a professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Northern Illinois.
“It is a historic event,” he said.
For his part, Biden said that the meteorological phenomena have become “more intense” due to global warming, while he told reporters that he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider the role of climate change in these storms.
At the same time, the American president asked questions about the tornado warning system. “What warning was there? “She was strong enough, did they take her seriously?”