MAYFIELD, Ky. - A monstrous tornado, carving a track that could rival the longest on record, ripped across the middle of the U.S. in a stormfront that killed dozens and tore apart a candle factory, crushed a nursing home, derailed a train and collapsed an Amazon warehouse.
The National Weather Service says the twister was at least an EF3 tornado.
Rescue crews continued Sunday to comb through fields of wreckage looking for survivors, hopes of finding anyone else alive dwindled rapidly.
"We want to thank the rest of the country for your attention, your help and your prayers," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday afternoon. "We've needed them and we are still hoping as we move forward for some miracles to find more people and to hopefully have a lower death count than what we expect."
"We're going to see over 1,000 homes that are just gone. I don't think we'll have ever seen damage at this scale ever," he continued.
Gov. Andy Beshear initially warned Sunday that the state’s overall death toll from the outbreak of twisters Friday night in Mayfield and other communities could exceed 100. But later in the day, the candle company said that while eight were confirmed dead and eight remained missing, more than 90 others had been located.
"Many of the employees were gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over they left the plant and went to their homes," said Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company. "With the power out and no landline they were hard to reach initially. We’re hoping to find more of those eight unaccounted as we try their home residences."
The update raised hope that the toll from the twister outbreak wouldn't be as high as first feared, and the governor said it would be "pretty wonderful" if original estimates were wrong.
Search are rescue efforts are underway at Mayfield Consumer Products, a candle factory, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service)
More than 36 people have died across five states including those in Kentucky, six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.
If early reports are confirmed, the twister "will likely go down perhaps as one of the longest track violent tornadoes in United States history," said Victor Gensini, a researcher on extreme weather at Northern Illinois University.
The longest tornado on record, in March 1925, tracked for about 220 miles through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But Gensini said this twister may have touched down for nearly 250 miles. The storm was all the more remarkable because it came in December, when normally colder weather limits tornadoes, he said.
At least 33 tornadoes were reported across six states, including Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, FOX Weather reported. The National Weather Service issued 149 tornado warnings through the night.
The 33 reports of tornadoes ranked Dec. 10 as the seventh most active tornado day of the year in the nation, according to FOX Weather meteorologist and Senior Weather Data Specialist Shane Brown. The United States averages one tornado report in December.
Brown said eight tornado emergencies — the most life-threatening and extreme tornado warning — were issued Friday. Before the outbreak, there had only been seven such warnings issued in December combined since 1999.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for Kentucky on Saturday and pledged to support the affected states.
"I promise you, whatever is needed — whatever is needed — the federal government is going to find a way to provide it," Biden said.
Meanwhile, six people were killed in the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital, fire Chief James Whiteford said.
Search efforts continued there Sunday and were expected to take several days, but authorities said they did not expect to find additional survivors. The damage was extensive; the structure’s steel support pillars were exposed after the walls and roof caved.
"These walls are made out of 11-inch thick concrete, and they’re about 40 feet tall, so a lot of weight from that came down," Whiteford said.
Authorities received reports of workers being trapped and the fire unit arrived within six minutes, according to Whiteford. Police helped pull people from the rubble, with 45 people surviving.
Authorities were uncertain whether anyone was still unaccounted for because workers were in the midst of a shift change when it was struck by the tornado about 8:30 p.m. local time Friday.
Both sides of the warehouse used to prepare orders for delivery collapsed inward and the roof caved, Whiteford said.
"This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners," Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has been trying to organize workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama, criticized the company for keeping the Illinois site open during a weather emergency.
Amazon said that when a site is made aware of a tornado warning, all employees are notified and directed to move to a shelter.
But company officials declined to answer specific questions about when employees were warned.
Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn on Sunday identified the six people who were killed. Four were from Illinois: 26-year-old Austin J. McEwen of Edwardsville, 29-year-old Clayton Lynn Cope of Alton, 46-year-old Larry E. Virden of Collinsville and 62-year-old Kevin D. Dickey of Carlyle. Two others — 28-year-old Deandre S. Morrow and 34-year-old Etheria S. Hebb — were from St. Louis.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.